Insecurity among Hindus in Balochistan
A few years ago, my friend Basant Lal Gulshan, a reputed political representative of the Hindu community in Balochistan and currently a minister in Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani’s cabinet, visited me at my Daily Times bureau office inside Universal Complex on Jinnah Road, Quetta. We discussed over a cup of coffee amid irritating load-shedding in a July noon about the social, political and economic state of the Hindus, the largest religious minority in Balochistan.
“Basant, tell me one thing,” I said as he glanced at an Urdu newspaper lying on the large wooden table.
“What? Are you also trying to convert me into Islam?” he laughed and wittingly referred to one such question that he, and surely several other Hindus, had to grow up with in a Muslim-majority society.
“Aray no,” I immediately interrupted, “Just tell me, when did the Hindus first come to Balochistan and Where did they come from?”
Basant laughed loudly at what I subsequently realized was an absurd question.
“What do you mean that when and from where the Hindus came?” he explained, “Hindus are in fact the original inhabitants of this place. They were very much here even before the arrival of anyone else in Balochistan. Hindus have been living in Balochistan since time immemorial.”
Basant had a valid point. Hindus have lived in Balochistan for centuries. They have loved Balochistan for its secular and religiously tolerant culture. While millions of non-Muslims left for India at the time of Partition in 1947 from all three provinces of Pakistan, the Hindus of Balochistan, on the other hand, did not emulate their compatriots. They have not only lived in Balochistan with much respect and tranquility but also possessed exorbitant businesses in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, and many other districts of the gas-rich province. One finds a sizeable number of Hindus running impressive businesses and offering laudable social services in the districts of Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Bolan, Jhal Magsi, Sibi, Khuzdar, Kalat, Dera Bugti, Mastung, Quetta, Lasbela and other districts.
My journalistic mentor Siddiq Baluch often jokingly reminds me that if you pick up the telephone directory of one of these Baloch districts, you will find so many (Hinud surnames) Kumars, Kapoors and Sharmas that you will start believing for a while that you are searching the telephone directory of Mumbai or New Delhi.
The behavior of secular Baloch tribal chiefs has historically been friendlier than the State towards the Hindus minorities. For example, prominent Baloch leader Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti, who was killed by Pervez Musharraf regime in a military operation, used to keep the Hindu population very close to his legendary fort in order to safeguard the religious minorities from the criminal elements present in the area. It was this reason that when the fort of Nawab Bugti was attacked by the Frontier Corps (FC) on March 17, 2005, a lot of Hindus, mainly women and children, were killed in the assault which was directed at the Baloch tribal chief and a former chief minister of the gas-rich province.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the country’s foremost credible human rights watchdog, in its 2005 report “Conflict in Balochistan” issued the list of 31 Hindus, including 19 children, 3 women and 11 men, who were killed by the security forces in the attack on Nawab Bugti’s fort.
Another 24 Hindus were injured in the same attack. No investigation was ever carried out against the killing of innocent Hindus by the security forces nor was any one punished for this grave violation of human, more importantly minority, rights. Unapologetic about their actions, the security forces further intensified their war against democratic Balochs until it culminated in the state-sponsored murder of a former Baloch chief minister Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, 79.
Even in the most turbulent times, the Baloch leaders endeavored to ensure the safety and security of the Hindus. They were offered a sense of ownership and equal status in the society because of their peaceful nature, loyalty with their historic land and enormous contributions in the local businesses. They were never discriminated against on the basis of religion in the Baloch society where ethnic identity is still given preference over the religious identity.
Unfortunately, Balochistan has recently witnessed the surge of violence against Hindus with the rise of criminal activities. The provincial government, headed by the Pakistan People’s Party, has entirely failed to guard the life and property of the people living in the province. The presence of an incompetent government that has remained unable to maintain its writ in the province, several criminal groups have been encouraged to take the whole society hostage. These groups particularly target the Hindu businessmen in cases of kidnapping for ransom.
Since the Hindus are actively involved in local businesses and lack considerable representation in the local politics, media and the civil society, they have become a very soft target of the criminal groups. Dozens of Hindus have been kidnapped by these criminal groups from time to time in different parts of Balochistan. The provincial government has not taken tangible measures to immediately address this pressing issue.
The killing of Hamesh Kumar, a Hindu trader, in Quetta city and the kidnapping of his son, Rajesh, earlier this week is a graver reminder of an opening chapter of violence against religious minorities. No matter what the motives behind such desperate actions are, they lead to more insecurity among the members of the Hindu community. Insecure and terrorized Hindus bring shame to secular Balochistan. Therefore, Baloch tribal elders and nationalist parties should also rise to reiterate their commitment to minority rights.
Members of the Balochistan Assembly hailing from the minority community, including my friend Basant Lal Gulshan, staged a walk out during the previous session to vent their anger over the increasing violence directed at the Hindu community in Balochistan. The minority MPAs must not have walked out of the BA happily as all of them are already a part of the provincial government. They must not have done so to offend the provincial chief minister. In fact they did so as a last resort to draw the attention of the chief minister and the top officials of the provincial government towards the kidnapping and killing of Hindu traders.
It is, I admit, unfair to ask for selective justice from the government. After all, the responsibility of the government is to safeguard all members of the society irrespective of their religious and ethnic affiliations. On the other hand, one would hardly expect any improvement in the state of insecurity that has engulfed the Hindus of Balochistan for the reason that the province is already undergoing an anarchic phase of its history. Teasing tactics and violent behavior with the religious minorities is not the hallmark of the Baloch society and the current cycle of violence should be reversed.
The writer is the editor of The Baloch Hal, the first online English newspaper of Balochistan