Jacobabad: Bustling with life till recently, the streets of Jacobabad in Pakistan's Sindh province now wear a forlorn look. The town, which is home to 90 per cent of the country's Hindu population, has witnessed families leaving in droves amidst a growing sense of insecurity and a prevailing fear psychosis arising out of reported persecution of minorities.
"Almost 60 families have left Jacobabad because people are feeling insecure here, we have no one to support us, not socially and not at the government level," a Hindu resident said.
Festering since long, the issue hit headlines after over 250 Hindus belonging to the Balochistan and Sindh provinces crossed over to India this early month, amid reports of an exodus following the kidnapping of a Hindu girl. The community has been the target of extortions, kidnapping and forced conversions in these provinces.
While many of the Pakistani Hindus, who have come to India on pilgrimage visas, are likely to stay on and seek asylum, most are under pressure from the Pakistani government to give written assurances ensuring that they would return. On record, they insist that are secure in their country and will go back to their farms and villages.
"We are very happy where we stay, we are safe. We are going on a holiday as per our wish...we will come back in 30 days," Om Prakash, a resident of Jacobabad, said.
But that can hardly hide the apprehensions of a community which is fast becoming a soft target of Islamic extremism. There are only 3% Hindus in Pakistan and their numbers continue to dwindle.
The mass migration of Hindus has also come as a major embarrassment for the Pakistani establishment, more so for the ruling Pakistani People's Party (PPP) which prides itself on being secular and liberal. President Asif Ali Zardari, in fact, has constituted a three-member committee to meet the Hindu community across Sindh and express solidarity and instill a sense of security among them. However, the leaders of the community as well as rights activists say that the actions are a case of too little, too late.
"I am Hindu, but I have read the Quran and am very impressed by the religion. But I am scared of saying out aloud that I am impressed by Islam, because I fear that if I tell someone that I am impressed by Islam, they might forcefully convert me to a Muslim," Mangla Sharma, a Pakistani Hindu, said.
The fear is not without reason. The conversion of Rinkle Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu girl, to Islam a few months ago became a national controversy. Her parents alleged that she was forcefully kidnapped and converted but when the matter was taken up by the country's Supreme Court, she chose to stay with her Muslim husband. There are suspicions, though, that she did so under duress.
What's worse, the man who organized her conversion and marriage among much fanfare is a powerful local leader belonging to the PPP. And this is where the problem lies - it's not so much about the conversion of Hindu girls as it is about the apathy of the society at large towards the already-beleaguered minorities.
Story first published:
August 20, 2012 01:48 IST