The grudges and gratitude for the government found an outlet as the president’s special committee on minorities met the Hindu community representatives on Monday.
Some showered praise on the government’s swift reaction to placate the smouldering anger of the community while others gave vent to their feelings, as federal minister Maula Bux Chandio and Senator Hari Ram Kishori Lal called on the representatives of Hindu Panchayat and Young Hindu Association at the residence of social activist Zulfiqar Halepoto.
Many believed, however, that no long-term solutions will emerge from the exercise initiated on the directives of President Asif Ali Zardari to mollify the community’s ruffled feathers.
“If the government fails us this time we will join the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM),” warned Dr Chandi Ram Shahani, the district president of Hindu Panchayat. “The MQM’s stance over the minority rights is unequivocal and supportive.”
The enactment of the Hindu marriage act, separate electorate, steps to stop forced conversions, implementation of job quota, regulating the elections of panchayats and curbing crimes against minorities topped the complaints.
The federal minister noted that the sense of insecurity and deprivation is obvious in the Hindus. “The immediate legislation of laws and executive measures are indispensable to allay their woes,” he said. “In our interaction with the community in Jacobabad and Sukkur among other places, the matter of ‘honour’ [Hindu girls marrying Muslim men and converting to Islam] dominated other problems.”
The committee will present its recommendations to the president in a few days and expressed the hope of their implementation especially the ones pertaining to legislation.
Responding to the demand of resignations by minority legislators, Chandio acknowledged that the minority felt disconnected with their elected representatives, but stopped short of giving a word.
Citing figures from the Federal Investigation Agency, the minister refuted the claims of a Hindu exodus from the country. In 2011, 7,000 Hindu pilgrims went to India of whom 5,600 returned immediately while the others returned over a period of time, he said.
It came as a relief to the committee when the people at the meeting said that the Hindus in southern Sindh do not face the problems of crime and conversions as their community members do in Larkana and Sukkur divisions – who still have their own issues.
A majority of the participants demanded separate electorates for the minorities. “Non-Muslim Pakistanis should be allowed to elect among themselves their representatives for the assemblies,” said Jay Ram Dhirani, the president of Young Hindu Panchayat.
A constitutional expert, Advocate Jhamat Mal, objected to the suggestion however. “This will be against the values of democracy,’’ he said. “The minorities will lose their right to vote in the general elections if they opt for a separate electorate. We should, on the contrary, struggle to get into the mainstream instead of ostracising ourselves [electorally].”
Mal advised the community to prepare coherent recommendations which safeguard their interests but at the same time assimilate them with the majority.
On the issue of conversion of Hindu girls, the community members criticised the process of sending the women to Darul Aman while the courts heard their cases. They proposed setting up shelter houses supervised by the minority for their interim accommodation.
The community also acknowledged their internecine differences, especially their divided panchayats, which are though registered under the Cooperative Society Act but do not hold regular elections.
“We have at least two or more panchayats in every district instead of one,” said Chandu Mal, a retired bureaucrat. He underscored the need to replace the panchayats with a council which annually holds elections from the centre to the district level. “The problem lies within us because we are represented by unelected representatives in the government as well as in our panchayats,” he believed.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.