Diwali may be the triumph of good over evil, but if the Hindus are to be believed, that won’t be happening this year. Hundreds of them, including Sikhs and Christians, protested against the minority minister on Tuesday after his Rs5,000 handout turned sour.
A week ago, Minorities Minister Mohan Lal Kohistani announced a Diwali package. The department receives Rs25 million a year out of which 12% or Rs3 million is given in financial assistance, usually for religious festivals.
When news of the cheques spread, people from as far as Nawabshah flocked to the Sindh Secretariat – only to be turned away. Karachi resident Kishore Mohan waited from 11am to 6pm when the police said no more money was coming. “I would have bought some sweets and clothes for my seven school-going children,” he said.
It is Diwali today, Wednesday, and the people who came from other cities were relying on the money. Fifty-eight-year-old Nanda from Sukkur burst into tears at the news there was none. “I don’t even have the fare to reach home,” she cried.
As news of the protest outside the Karachi Press Club spread, Sardar Ramesh Singh of the Pakistan Sikh Council reached the spot. According to him, the people were sold government claim forms for Rs100 but didn’t get the cheques.
The minister could not be reached immediately but his public relations officer said he was busy with the commemorations for Begum Nusrat Bhutto. The staff at his office were left to handle the situation. Danish Saeed, the director of Minority Affairs, who was in charge of the process, said there was no protest even as people were lined up outside.
His explanation was that the ministry decided to give the cheques the next day as too many people had turned up. They had also decided to split them into Rs2,500 per person so there was more to go around.
Doing a bad job?
Anger has been building against Kohistani. “A Muslim minister would be better for us,” remarked Sardar Ramesh Singh in an earlier interview. “We need a minster who will at least give us time and pay equal attention to all minority issues.”
Singh is the president of Sikh Naujawan Sabah Pakistan. He complains that during this government, they have not received funding for temples and churches or the 5% jobs. “We still have to run around the busy minister’s office to get security for religious occasions,” he said, adding that none of the Sikh students have received scholarships.
Paradoxically, the grievances prevail when Sindh has a separate ministry for minorities – for the first time. Previously, minorities came under the Auqaf, Religious and Minorities Affairs, Zakat And Usher department.
At a recently held meeting, the leaders of the three minorities – Sikhs, Hindus and Christians – aired their grievances against Kohistani and demanded an inquiry into how he was running the show.
Dano Mal Mahraj of the Pakistan Hindu Foundation said kidnappings had gone up so much that people are leaving for India. In Badin, Hindus are getting their passports made to apply for Indian immigration.
In an earlier interview, minister Kohistani rebuffed all allegations. “We have disbursed financial aid to 12,500 people in Sindh and I also met the chief minister for the implementation of the job quota,” he explained. “The kidnappings fell from 74 people a day to almost 12 a day during our rule,” he boasted.
He blames a population rise. The last census says minorities are only 1.8 million to 2 million in Sindh. “I believe the recent census will show that the population is around 10 million.”
In that case, he would have to prepare a lot more cheques.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2011.