Mithi: An oa­sis of Mus­lim-Hindu tol­er­ance

The Star Malaysia - - Focus -

COWS roam freely in the Pak­istani city of Mithi, as in neigh­bour­ing In­dia. Con­sid­ered sa­cred an­i­mals among Hin­dus, they em­body the re­li­gious tol­er­ance of this com­mu­nity in con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim Pak­istan, where mi­nori­ties face heavy dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“Here, Mus­lims re­spect the be­liefs of Hin­dus,” says Sham Das, a 72-year-old pen­sioner. “They do not kill cows, or only in re­mote places, but not in Hindu neigh­bour­hoods.”

Un­like in the rest of Pak­istan, cat­tle in Mithi live very well. They eat as they please, of­ten from rub­bish bins, and fall asleep on the roads.

At times, tuk-tuks and mo­tor­cy­cles nav­i­gate a weav­ing path around the an­i­mals. At oth­ers the traf­fic waits pa­tiently for them to wake.

Mithi is a mostly Hindu city of 60,000 peo­ple, a rar­ity in a coun­try where some 95% of the pop­u­la­tion is Mus­lim.

As they en­ter Shri Kr­ishna tem­ple, the Hindu faith­ful ring a bell, the sound of which min­gles with the azan, the call to prayer for Mus­lims sounded just a few streets away.

A re­laxed group of young Hin­dus talk out­side the colour­ful, in­tri­cately carved ex­te­rior, where not a sin­gle guard is em­ployed.

It is a sharp con­trast to the Hindu neigh­bour­hoods in the megac­ity of Karachi, some 300km away, which are un­der armed sur­veil­lance.

Vi­jay Ku­mar Gir, a Hindu priest in Karachi, says that of the 360 tem­ples in the city, merely a dozen are still func­tion­ing.

“The rest of them have been shut down and their land is be­ing en­croached.”

It is a bleak sit­u­a­tion that is far more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the stig­ma­ti­sa­tion Hin­dus face across Pak­istan, where they are of­ten as­sumed to be “pro-In­dia be­cause of their reli­gion”, ac­cord­ing to Marvi Sirmed, of the Pak­istan Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (HRCP).

“So they are al­ways looked at with sus­pi­cion to be anti-Pak­istan,” she adds, re­fer­ring to the tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries, which have fought three wars since par­ti­tion in 1947.

The HRCP de­scribes Pak­istani Hin­dus as feel­ing “un­easy” in their coun­try, say­ing in its an­nual re­port that “the mi­gra­tion of Hin­dus to In­dia may soon turn into an ex­o­dus if the dis­crim­i­na­tion against them con­tin­ues”.

Ac­cord­ing to the HRCP, which cites re­li­gious lead­ers, the big­gest prob­lem fac­ing the com­mu­nity is the “forced con­ver­sion” to Is­lam of women and girls, many of whom are ab­ducted be­fore be­ing mar­ried off to Mus­lim men.

But none of this ap­pears to af­fect Mithi, where Mus­lims and Hin­dus say they live to­gether in har­mony, even send­ing one an­other gifts and sweets to mark their re­li­gious hol­i­days, res­i­dents say.

“Since I was old enough to rea­son, I have wit­nessed fra­ter­nity, love and har­mony be­tween Hin­dus and Mus­lims,” shares Su­nil Ku­mar, a 35-year-old busi­ness­man.

“That has been go­ing on for gen­er­a­tions of our fore­fa­thers... it shall go on for­ever.”

The ori­gins of Mithi’s peace­ful ex­is­tence are rooted in the ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion of the city, which rose out of the sand dunes in the ma­jes­tic Tharparkar desert that bor­ders the In­dian state of Ra­jasthan.

Lo­cal re­searchers claim a group of peace-lov­ing Hin­dus founded the town in the early 16th cen­tury,

as war and loot­ing raged all around.

The soil was not fer­tile and it was dif­fi­cult to ac­cess wa­ter, so the city at­tracted only those of lit­tle means who had few other op­tions.

“We are the de­scen­dants of the orig­i­nal res­i­dents of this re­gion, as pos­i­tive and peace-lov­ing as they were,” says Al­lah Ju­rio, a 53-yearold imam in Mithi, which is also renowned for its low crime rate.

“Non-vi­o­lence is in­her­ently our sec­ond na­ture.”

But as re­li­gious ex­trem­ism and hate speech flour­ish in Pak­istan, and “faith-based vi­o­lence in the name of reli­gion con­tin­ues un­abated”, ac­cord­ing to the HRCP, the fear that this oa­sis of tol­er­ance may dis­ap­pear is pal­pa­ble.

Al­though Chan­dar Ku­mar, a 24-year-old Hindu com­puter sci­en­tist, sees no prob­lems in the longterm among Mithi’s res­i­dents, he says “there are el­e­ments from out­side who as­pire to spread dis­crim­i­na­tion”, de­clin­ing to elab­o­rate.

Ex­trem­ist groups, such as the Ja­maat-ud-Dawa, la­belled a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion by the UN, are ac­cused of be­ing ac­tive in the area.

“They want to end the unity,” says Ku­mar.

— AFP

Pic­ture of tol­er­ance: Chil­dren gath­er­ing out­side the Hindu Shri Kr­ishna tem­ple in the city of Mithi in Pak­istan.

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