The widely publicised report of Hindus migrating to India en masse has blown up – with the Sindh chief minister taking notice - but conflicting accounts about the reason for their visit have emerged.
The CM wants a three-member committee to be headed by the minster on minority affairs report back in two days. Sources in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad said they could not comment because of the conflicting reports in the media.
The former head of the Hindu Panchayat of Jacobabad, Lal Chand Setlani, told The Express Tribune that on Wednesday, a renowned Maharaj of Jacobabad, Santosh Puri, along with his followers left for a Yatra (religious pilgrimage) to India. As the Maharaj has a huge following, a large number of people from Balochistan, Jacobabad and Kashmore had come to the railway station in Jacobabad to bid him farewell.
While his departure was portrayed as a permanent migration, Setlani said that only 11 of the followers accompanied the Maharaj. The rest were there to see him off.
The state of law and order and forced conversions in Sindh has made the situation “intolerable”, said Hindu Panchayat Jacobabad President Baboo Mahesh Lakhani. Kidnapping of Hindu traders and children for ransom and extortion is common, he said, but they are not just restricted to Hindus. But when people started playing with our honour, it became intolerable, he said.
“MK, a 15-year-old resident of Gharibabad Mohalla Jacobabad, was kidnapped five days ago and nothing has been done so far.” (see box).
Lakhani said that it was wrong to assume that every family boarding a train or bus for Lahore from Jacobabad was migrating to India.
He added that while Hindu families have migrated to India, they don’t get a red carpet welcome there. However, he criticised elected representatives of minorities. They either live in Islamabad or Karachi and the “hot weather of Jacobabad and other areas is keeping them away from us”. Other representatives from Jacobabad, such as Aijaz and Gul Mohammad Jakhrani, have supported them instead.
Ramesh Lal, who is the president of Hindu Panchayat Thull, was recently kidnapped by armed men near Khairpur and was kept hostage for 11 days. Lal said that while Muslims are also being kidnapped for ransom, the kidnapping and conversion of Hindu girls was simply intolerable.
According to Lal, most of the Hindu families have migrated from Jacobabad, Thull, Garhi Khairo, Buxapur, Kandhkot and other areas. However migrants usually go to Indore in India, where a large number of Sindhi Hindus are settled. They help them with accommodation and jobs. While most people go to India for religious pilgrimage, about 15% stay back.
Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron in chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, claimed that dozens of families were migrating to India every month.
It is believed that the families who have migrated are from the middle class who cannot afford to pay extortion money. According to Vankwani, hundreds of families migrated to India in the early 1990s but many returned in 2000. “The law and order situation was satisfactory till 2006 and the issue of migration arose again in 2010,” he said.
Sindh minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla said that the reports of migration are exaggerated. “If a Hindu girl is eloping with a Muslim boy of her free will, then what we can do,” he said. He responded to allegations of ignoring Hindus by citing the example of the recovery within 11 days of Ramesh Lal.
The president of the Hindu Panchayat of Karachi Division Amarnath Motumal said that the issues were being politicised. “Which community or sect is safe in Pakistan? Hindus are not migrating but they go on visit visas and come back. The issue is being exploited,” he said.
“First, we are Pakistanis and then Hindus. No one shares facts and figures of migrating families. One can’t cry that all Hindus are migrating when a few are moving for certain reasons. People want to live here. They are more secure here than in India. I know they come back after spending a couple of months there.”
With additional reporting by Sameer Mandhro in Karachi
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2012.
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