Sindh’s lower-income Hindus suffer, rich face no problems
WHILE many of Karachi’s Hindus say they experience few difficulties in the city, others, especially those with lower incomes, report they are facing problems.
“My 14-year-old daughter Sabna was kidnapped on her way to work,” said a Hindu Karachi-based day labourer who calls himself Aziz so as to avoid being identified as a non-Muslim. “She was forcibly picked up and taken away on a motorbike,” he said. “Two days later we discovered she had converted to Islam and married a boy.”
It has been more than a year since he saw his daughter and two visits to the police failed to produce any official interest in the case. “It’s like she’s dead. There is no hope,” he said.
Other people say their daughters were lured away by people trying to manipulate them. “At three o’clock in the morning she ran away,” said Babu, who lives in Shirin Jinnah Colony, talking about his 14-year-old daughter who then converted and married. He has not seen her since. “I keep visiting the police and they keep saying they will bring her back but nothing has happened,” he said.
His case illustrates the difficulty of assessing whether some girls run away to make a love match. Hindu leaders reject that suggestion out of hand arguing that girls cannot be expected to make a decision about marriage and conversion when they are so immature. “Some girls who have been converted are as young as 13,” said Member of the National Assembly Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who runs the Pakistan Hindu Council. He says the forced marriage issue, as well as other types of discrimination, mean that thousands of Hindus leave Pakistan each year.
In 2016 the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Hindus Marriage Act. The law would make it illegal for any Hindu to be married below the age of 18. Despite the strong support for the measure in the assembly religious parties threatened street agitation if it became law. So far the governor of Sindh has not signed the act.
Islamists reject the whole issue of forced marriages out of hand. “This is, I think, a propaganda. It is nothing. It doesn’t happen,” said Muslim Pervez, Jamaat-i-Islami’s minority wing leader in Karachi, a position he has held for 14 years.
No problems for the rich
Hindus from wealthier, well-established families in Karachi report fewer problems. Top fashion designer Deepak Perwani, who says his family has lived in Sindh for over 700 years, attracts wealthy clients from Karachi and around the world. When he began his business he was nervous about putting his name on a sign outside his stores. But when eventually he did so, he did not experience any problems. “People in Karachi are very open-minded,” he said. He is now a brand ambassador for Pakistan. “We are very, very proud,” he said, “to be a minority and Pakistani.”
Restaurant owner Sunita Achria has also managed a successful career in Karachi. But once again differences across the class divide are apparent. Sunita Achria told the BBC how four years ago a Hindu maid she was employing decided to leave Pakistan.
“The maid said: ‘I have seven girls and I have had to stop sending them to school because they have been getting threats that they might be picked up.’” The two families are still in touch and Sunita Achria says her former maid is missing life in Pakistan. “Karachi is Karachi and they loved Karachi,” she said. But the former maid is staying in India for the sake of her daughters’ security.
For all the problems, Hindu life in Karachi goes on. In the Hindu temple in Clifton located in a cave beneath ground level, people arriving ring a bell to announce their presence. The air is filled with incense and music plays from a mobile phone attached to a loud speaker. In the gloomy, deeper recesses of the temple, elderly women kneel before a statue in deep thought. From time to time they pour milk on the statue’s head and cover it with rose petals.
A 23-year-old English-speaking woman in the temple, Urmylla, said she felt able to practise her religion freely. “We are living in a Muslim country and it’s a privilege being here,” she said. “We don’t have any problems.”