LAHORE: The Hindu scheduled caste, according to the last census, comprises the largest portion of the religious minorities in Pakistan yet they don’t have any representation in provincial or national assemblies.
Marriage of Hindu and Sikhs are still not recognized by the Pakistani law which causes complications for the community and makes them vulnerable to exploitation. These views were expressed by the guests at the Jang Forum held on the topic, ‘Minorities.’ The guests were MPA PPP Shaukat Basra, Scheduled Caste Rights Movement Chairman Ramesh Jaipal, Sikh leader Gumeet Singh and Guru Sukhdev Jee. The forum was hosted by Moayyed Jafri. Ramesh Jaipal said that according to the last census in Pakistan, the biggest religious minority was Hindu which comprises 50 percent of the total minorities. He said that in 1947, parallel to the demand of India and Pakistan, was the demand of Achhutistan, which represented 60 percent of the population of the subcontinent and the late Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar led the Achhutistan movement which on human rights grounds was, rationally, was even more legitimate than the demand for India or Pakistan as the Achhuts (outcasts) were the class most discriminated against and everybody else detested them.
Quoting the extent of discrimination and caste hatred, still prevalent in the society, Jaipal said Pakistan NA member Dr Khatumal Jevan had to pay Rs5,000 to a hotel in Punjab recently for the crockery he used as the hotel management said that the crockery could not be reused as it was used by an Achhut (outcast). He mentioned that minority marriages, apart from Christian, were not registered in Pakistan which was leading to exploitation of the minority couples by police. The police could accuse any couple of adultery as there was no legal proof a Hindu marriage in Pakistan and thus the police took extortion money due to this lacuna in the law, he added. He said that if the Minority Marriage Law, currently pending in the National Assembly, was approved, it would be the first Sikh marriage act worldwide. Pakistani law did not completely recognize Christian divorce, he added.
Ramesh Jaipal resented the fact that despite 0.55 million sub-caste Hindu population in Punjab, theirs was zero representation in the provincial assembly. He said although the PPP had Hindu parliamentarians and senators in it, they belonged to the higher caste and did not represent the scheduled caste Hindus. After PML-N had abolished the five percent quota system for the minorities in 1998, their employment woes had multiplied, he complained.
Guru Sukhdev Jee said that the Hindus stayed in Pakistan after partition because Quaid-e-Azam had convinced them that they would not be discriminated against like in united India. He said that because of them being of lower class, they were sometimes not even allowed to bury their dead. He pointed out that a temple of scheduled caste Hindus was currently being used as a dairy and stable in Rahimyar Khan.
Responding to the concerns of the Hindu minorities, PPP MPA Shaukat Basra said that the PPP had always been at the forefront for advocating minorities’ rights. He mentioned that the manifesto of the party pledges respecting, honouring and celebrating rights of every Pakistani, regardless of colour, creed, caste or religion. He said out of the total of five Hindu NA members in Pakistan, four belong to the PPP and it was the only political party with a Hindu Senator, Dr Khatumal, on the general seat. Basra said that he understood the concerns of the scheduled caste Hindus and he would convey their concerns to the party hierarchy. He assured them that he would try his best to get the minorities’ marriage bill passed from the assembly before the end of the PPP’s term.