May Issue 2012

By | News & Politics | Published 12 years ago

The words “asylum” and “migration” are on the lips of almost every Hindu I encountered in Balochistan, but they were said with hesitancy and just a little bit of shame. None of them actually want to leave their homeland but they are the victims of circumstance. And the circumstances right now are particularly dire, with the relatively prosperous Hindu community becoming an easy target for kidnappers looking for a quick and easy score.

The provincial government does not maintain any statistics of how many Hindus have been kidnapped but the home department admits that of the nearly 300 abductions in the province last year, many were from the minority community. The Balochistan chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) puts the number at 34, while Basant Lal Gulshan, the provincial human rights and minorities minister estimates that 50 members of the community have been kidnapped in the last four years.

Seen in isolation, these figures may not seem particularly outlandish, especially when considering the many problems that plague Balochistan. But the Hindu population in the province is estimated to be only 27,000, which is why the reverberations of each kidnapping and murder are felt by every Hindu.

Two kidnappings in particular have added to the sense of insecurity among the Hindu community. Vinod, a trader in Quetta, says he started worrying for his safety on April 11 when Maharaj Ganga Ram Motiyani, the chairman of the committee that manages the Hinglaj Mata temple, was kidnapped from Lasbela. He says that the kidnapping took place just a couple of days before the annual pilgrimage to the shrine, which he was planning to attend himself. He says, “Whoever kidnapped him must have known about the pilgrimage. They did this to scare all of us.” Vinod says that he won’t be travelling to Kalat, home to a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali, anymore because of the kidnappings that take place there.

The other kidnapping which sent shockwaves through the Hindu community of traders, teachers and other professionals was that of Rajesh Kumar, the son of Dr Nand Lal who is a member of the Quetta chapter of the HRCP. There has been no word from Kumar’s kidnappers although a police source claimed that there had been a ransom demand that his family was unable to meet.

Almost a year ago, Tausiq Kumar, a Hindu trader from the Patel Bagh area of Quetta, had applied for asylum to India after one of his relatives was murdered for resisting a kidnapping attempt. He shifted to Islamabad to try and expedite his application. He is still waiting to make the move.

Kumar says that the palpable fear that now pervades the Hindu community in Balochistan had never previously existed. According to him, Hindus in the province were fearful after the Babri Masjid riots in India in 1992, but those worries turned out to be unfounded.

It is commonly believed that the kidnappings are being carried out by vengeful separatists out to create havoc in Balochistan. But Kumar does not believe that is the case. He says, “The community is being targeted by criminal gangs who have no political agenda. They just know that we are well off but politically weak.”

Kumar personally knows of five Hindu families that have migrated to India, while the provincial government has admitted that as many as 50 other families might be looking to leave the province for a more hospitable country. Others simply pack their bags and move internally, mostly to Karachi.

The history of Balochistan is inexorably tied to the history of Hinduism. Major temples dot the province and many Hindus from India make annual pilgrimages to the many shrines. If the situation doesn’t get any better, though, the visits will end up being only one-way, with all roads leading out of Balochistan.

This article was originally published in the May issue of Newsline under the headline “Easy Prey.”

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.