April 10, 2013

Panel Discussion on Human Rights Violation in Bangladesh and Pakistan

Religious intolerance in our neighboring countries today has led to various atrocities against minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians as well as against other factions within Islam itself. The idea behind organizing this panel discussion was to discuss and bring light on Human Rights violations in Bangladesh and Pakistan. This was held on 10th April, 2013 under the aegis of India Foundation to voice the concerns of those genuinely moved by the plight of the minorities. The conference also provided a platform to those who have suffered such atrocities.

The speakers at the event were Dr. Chandan Mitra-MP (RS) & Director, India Foundation and Shri G. Parthasarthy- Former High Commissioner to Pakistan. There were also two persons from Hyderabad of Sindh province in Pakistan to share their experiences with the audience.

Shri G Parthasarthy started his address by sharing his experience as a High Commissioner in Pakistan. He stated that during his tenure, he was very clear in his suggestion that any member from a minority community who was aggrieved should not be denied visa into India. He shared the experience during 1980s, giving visa to the Baha’i community which was highly aggrieved during those times. He was instructed not to grant visa to Baha’i people who had come as migrants from Iran. Still he granted them visa and today the contribution of the Baha’i community in nation’s capital stands tall in the form of Lotus Temple. Shri Parthasarthy stressed that the power of granting visa should be given to the relevant authorities, especially in cases relating to those from exploited minorities or aggrieved populace. He mentioned that India has always given refuge to the exploited and we must never forget this tradition. He wondered that why there was a problem in giving visa aggrieved people when even after attacks large-scale terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Pakistan’s Prime Minister and cricket team are invited by our Government. He said, more than being about human rights, this issue is concerned with that of humanity. All exploited and distressed people must be helped and the issue should be raised at the highest platforms by politicians including before our Prime Minister. If still no action is taken, then the government must be shamed publicly. Shri Parthasarthy said that the plight of Hindus along with other minorities in Pakistan has been discussed at various platforms including the Indian Parliament. The need now is to think about what should be done to help the exploited. He mentioned that different approaches should be taken to deal with the atrocities in Pakistan and Bangladesh and no common approach shall help.

First talking of Pakistan, he explored the reasons of formation of Pakistan, which were religious. Jinnah, who is considered as the father of nation for Pakistan, was never really a religious person himself. This is even clear from his biography. Jinnah said after partition that regardless of Hindu or Muslim, all are equal citizens of Pakistan and can coexist peacefully. But the fundamental question which arises is that if people from both religions can coexist, then why create Pakistan in the first place? There has always been this conflict in Pakistan’s ideology.

The first error which Jinnah made was to make Urdu, an alien language to both East and West Pakistan, their national language. East Pakistan is a region which takes special pride in its own language and culture, be it poetry or art. Their love for the culture and language goes beyond the boundaries of religion. So the historical error of making Urdu the national language had paved the path of a separate Bangladesh. The credit of the creation of Bangladesh goes majorly to its people with support of India. The people of Bangladesh refused Jinnah’s two nation theory based on religion. The people of Bangladesh believed that apart from religion, history, culture and civilization too are important foundations for forming a nation.

Coming back to Pakistan, Shri Parthasarthy mentioned that sections 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan, introduced during the tenure of Mr Zia-ul-Haq, makes mandatory the knowledge of Islam to contest an election and the individual contesting the elections, must be a true Muslim. Also he must believe in the ideology of Pakistan and should have complete faith in it. These clauses give any returning officer the power to reject any candidate’s application. Now the question rose of what exactly Pakistan’s ideology was, to which Zia-ul-Haq said it’s Islam. This gave rise to the ideological clash between Shia and Sunni, considering their interpretations of the larger sense of Islam differ. Saudi Arab claimed that Shia’s were Kafir and sponsored formation of organizations like Jamat-ud-Dawa. This caused an internal war within Pakistan amongst various factions of Islam. The Ahmadiyya community was declared non-Muslim and hardliners started to exploit them by digging their graves: they were asked not to have the same mosques as those belonging to the ‘Muslims’. In doing this, Pakistan forgot the significant contributions by citizens belonging to the Ahmadiyya community. The chain of events which happened caused hatred and today the most exploited community within Pakistan is the Shia community. This hatred between Shia and Sunni has become a global phenomenon. There has been a constant effort within Pakistan to silence the moderate voices. Today the war within Pakistan in not only between Muslims and non-Muslims but also amongst various sects which have emerged within Islam. Describing the gravity of the situation, Shri Parthasarthy told that today not even a single Shia doctor resides in a metropolitan city like Karachi.

Shri Parthasarthy elaborated on the deplorable situation of the Hindus and Christians in Pakistan explained how a legislation called Blasphemy Law was being used as a tool to exploit them. Nobody in Pakistan has the audacity to change these laws introduced by Zia-ul-Haq. People like Governor of Punjab, Mr. Salman Taseer, who voice their opinion about changing such laws get murdered. All these factors are responsible for the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan. Shri Parthasarthy also voiced his concern over various lay citizens of India visiting Pakistan trying to downplay this rising fundamentalism.

He placed the data of a poll conducted amongst the youth of Pakistan about who should be ruling over their country. The results were startling with 29% voting in favour of Democracy, 32% voting in favour of military and 39% voting in favour of Islamic Sharia. This is indicative of societal change occurring in Pakistan.

Suggesting necessary steps to bring to forefront the grave human rights violation situation in Pakistan, Shri Parthasarthy said:

  • Firstly, the Prime Minister of India should along with his counterpart in Pakistan work towards easing the Visa regulations.
  • Secondly, non resident Indians across the world should form an alliance with the Christian missionaries and organizations working for Pakistani Christians and raise the issue at all relevant Human Rights platforms.

Next, as regards Bangladesh, Shri Parthasarthy said that there is an internal war within the country, between those who are in favour of its own language and culture on the one side and those who wish to bring Islamic Sharia on the other. The latter are being sponsored by Saudi Arab and Pakistan. Here our government, instead of interfering openly must help against those who wish to bring the Sharia. In Bangladesh we must support those who support India and are not hardliners.

Shri Parthasarthy while concluding, cautioned that if Islamic fundamentalism reaches the eastern boundaries of India, it would impact South-East Asian countries like Indonesia and this would have grave implications around the world. He asked the politicians to rise above the politics of vote-bank and selfish interests and raise such issues boldly. He also said that the government should be proactive in dealing with such situations.

After Shri Parthasarthy, the Hindu refugees from Pakistan narrated their plight to the audience. Shri Hanuman, a refugee and his uncle were handcuffed and his aunt was raped before their eyes. He also explained that Hindu girls of young age are abducted and there are forcibly converted into Islam. Sharing a recent phenomenon, he said that during cricket matches if Pakistan loses to India, all Hindus have to hide to save their lives from Fundamentalists. Further he said that Hindu leaders are mere pawns in the hands of fundamentalists and there is no one to listen to their plights in Pakistan. He said Hindus living in Pakistan were never really given an option during the time of partition and that they consider themselves Hindustanis and given a chance can even die for India.

The other refugee, a lady, shared her experience of leaving her 3 day old child back with her mother in Pakistan since the child was not given a visa. This was also done in order to save the lives of her other children. She also exclaimed that never in her entire life has she been able to celebrate a single Hindu festival.

Dr. Chandan Mitra moved by the previous narrations started his address by comparing the plight of minorities in Pakistan to those suffered by Jews in the Nazi Germany. He said government has turned a blind eye towards the suffering of such people. He said that today Pakistan has become a laboratory of fundamentalism and in this all minorities like Hindu, Sikh and Christians along with sects within Islam like the Shia, Ahmadiyya are suffering. There is a constant effort to convert or eradicate non-Muslims and simultaneously bring uniformity within Islam. Dr Mitra said that the plight which non Muslims face today in Pakistan is primarily because of the mistakes committed during Partition. Minorities didn’t stay back in Pakistan because they wanted to. The truth is they never really were given an option. Majority migration happened only in the border areas. In places like Uttar Pradesh where the leaders were flag bearers of the demand of Pakistan, majority Muslims stayed back. Dr. Mitra said that no major political party today wants to raise the issue of human rights violation in our neighboring countries due to vote bank politics. He mentioned the rising fundamentalism in India, citing examples of AUDF in Assam and MIM in Hyderabad. Explaining this he said that all communities and religions in India enjoy their freedom of expression and are free to exercise it, which is not true in Pakistan. This freedom is being misused and our government is sitting as a lame duck. Dr. Mitra said that India must be straightforward while talking to Pakistan and should not fear as the minorities here live as equal citizens with the rest of India.

Dr Mitra then raised the issue of poor treatment of refugees here in India. He sarcastically wondered that when Kashmiri Pandits, who are very much a part of this country are not being given equal rights, how could one expect good treatment for the minorities from another country, seeking refuge here? Same is the treatment with the minorities of Bangladesh with the exception that Muslims from Bangladesh are definitely being granted citizenship and other rights. This two faced attitude of the government of India – this pseudo secularism – is being left unchallenged by our vibrant media and civil society. When some MP’s raise this issue on the floor of the parliament what the government does is shed “crocodile tears” and nothing else. Going back to history, Dr. Mitra said that at the time of independence the percentage of minorities in Pakistan was around 20% which has come down today to less than 2%. In such scenario why would any minority like to go back? Whenever they get visa, like for pilgrimage to religious places or meeting their relatives, minorities and majorly Hindus come to India and then stay back. Minorities today in Pakistan have lost all love for their motherland and no more want to live there. In 2011, around five thousand Hindus came to India and 1248 of them didn’t go back even after the expiry of their visas. Such people are then exploited by our police. Around 18,185 Pakistani residents today are living in Rajasthan on long term visa. Dr. Mitra said that this issue needs to be raised at all forums including the Parliament and those who can’t go back shouldn’t be pushed back to leave. He said that fundamentalism is on steep rise in Pakistan. Girls are being abducted and forcibly being married to Muslim boys. Forcible religious conversions are on the rise and even to the extent that there are TV programs showing such conversions. Hindus including doctors are being shot dead across Pakistan. This shows the backing of the government of Pakistan.

Dr. Mitra then discussing about the situation in Bangladesh said that the conditions there weren’t bad initially but have been gradually deteriorating. In 1950, the Nehru-Liaqat pact was signed. This was after one round of rioting. It was decided that there will be no transfer of population from East Pakistan to India and vice versa and the rights of all the citizens shall be protected on either sides of the border. India stuck to its promise but there were constant riots in East Pakistan and Hindus were killed in large numbers. This caused ever growing migration of Hindus to India. Around one crore Hindus crossed the borders to come to India during Bangaldesh’s freedom struggle. It was assured that with the formation of Bangladesh all Hindus could go back to their homes. Many went back, most did not. Here sharing his personal experience, Dr. Mitra told that those who did go back to Pakistan initially found that they had lost all their property and land and the Pakistan army had given it to the locals there. The Hindus were left with no farms, cattle, houses or even huts. According to government estimates around 60 lac Hindus came to India from East Pakistan to during 1947 to 1974. Zia-ul- Rehman passed a legislation according to which the property of a person of minority community leaving the country even temporarily for pilgrimage is liable to be abducted. Only now has the Sheikh Hasina government brought some changes in that legislation. Dr. Mitra referred to research done by Dr. Abu Barkat of the Department of Economics, Dhaka University in which he found that on an average around 400-500 Hindu families migrate daily from Bangladesh to India. He prophesized that in 25 years there will be no Hindus left in Bangladesh, if migration continues at this rate. During 1947 there were around 28% Hindus in Bangladesh and today only about 9% of the population is Hindu. The condition of Buddhists is also same as that of Hindus. Buddhists are being beaten and asked to leave Bangladesh in areas of Chittagong; same is the situation of Chakma refugees who have come to areas of Himachal Pradesh & Manipur.

This intolerance towards anyone but Sunni Muslims in Bangladesh & Pakistan is causing large scale migration to India and grave human rights violations in these areas. Dr. Mitra said that this is a diabolical plot to convert all Muslims to hardcore fundamentalists. Adding to this, Dr. Mitra cautioned that this does not mean that all Muslims should be seen as the same, that there are nationalist Muslims present in huge numbers in India today. Such people should be taken into confidence and they should be asked to spread awareness against fundamentalism.

Sharing the recent experience of his travel to Bangladesh, Dr. Mitra told how Hindus were being targeted and their Gods and temples were being destroyed and vandalized during a two day closure called by the Jamat and BNP, the leading opposition parties. Hindus were asked to leave Bangladesh and go to India. But the reaction of the government of Bangladesh was proactive and the Prime Minister assured that the guilty would be brought to trial. This is a primary difference between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Another positive sign which was to be seen during his recent visit to Bangladesh was the mobilization of youth, called Shahbag protesters, against fundamentalism. There were even incidents were the villagers saved Hindus of their villagers against vandalism. This difference in culture distinguishes Bangladesh from Pakistan.

Concluding his suggestion on how to deal with the situation in Bangladesh, Dr. Mitra said:

  • Sheikh Hasina, who is a secular leader, and the youth protesting against the rising fundamentalism should be supported.
  • We need to distinguish between the exploited refugee and the illegal migrants. The exploited refugees should be helped. To help them is India’s moral binding.
  • Create awareness about rising atrocities against minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The day ended after this, with the audience raising questions of clarification to Shri. Parthasarathy and Dr. Chandan Mitra, in addition to commenting on the lack of political will in India to act on this issue of violation of Human Rights in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Dr. Mitra also assured that he would raise this issue in political circles and in his party and try and help the 480 other refugees from Pakistan in all possible manners in which he can.


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