Minority legislator speaks up on kidnappings, conversions
Friday, April 10, 2009
By Imtiaz Ali
Increasing incidents of kidnapping of Hindu community members and “conversion” have caused concern in Sindh. Approximately 30 to 35 minority members had been kidnapped; one of them was killed. Seven are still believed to be in the custody of abductors. Around 18 Hindu girls had been converted to Islam; one of them was reportedly killed this year.
Some say that these incidents should not be seen in isolation and should be viewed as part of the general law and order problem. Similarly, girls have increasingly shown a tendency to marry with their consent.
Others say there is a plot against the minority members who are being targeted for various reasons. Of particular concern is the alleged blasphemy case in Umerkot, which had remained closed for a few days recently following violent protests. Sindh Home Minister Zulfikar Mirza was of the view that there was a conspiracy to grab the property and business of the Hindu community.
These issues were also highlighted during the last days of parliamentary year of the Sindh Assembly by the Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarian (PPP-P) minority legislator, Pitanbar Sewani.
Sewani was born in Bagarji, Sukkur, in 1953 and has been associated with the PPP since 1974. Starting from his political career as a member of district council Shikarpur in 1979, he had been elected as a member of the provincial legislature twice. He is among three senior legislators of the minority community. Two others were late P.K Shahani and Rana Chander Singh. One striking aspect of his personality is that he prefers a simple lifestyle. He spoke to The News about these issues.
KIDNAPPINGS: Three Hindus were kidnapped in Salih Pat. The kidnappers demanded Rs1.5 million as ransom. When the relatives sold their property to pay the ransom money, the abductors increased the original amount to Rs2.5 million. As the poor relatives were not in a position to pay the ransom, the abductors killed Mahender Kumar on the Hindus’ religious festival (Holi) recently “as if to present a ‘gift’ to us,” Sewani said. Two were still in their custody.
On the same day on which Kumar was killed, the criminals kidnapped three more Hindus in Ghotki. “The home minister personally visited the area and we hope that they would be recovered,” Sewani said.
The robbers gunned down Dr Darshan Lal in Larkana and snatched Rs2.4 million from him. The police made some arrests in the case but showed only Rs16,000 as recovery from the accused.
In this year, around 30 to 35 Hindus had been kidnapped, out of them seven were still in the custody of criminals. Among them is PPP-P district Jacobabad minority wing President Darshan Lal. Apart from kidnappings, robberies had also been increased, targeting the Hindus. The robbers stormed a temple in Jacobabad and snatched 450 “tolas” gold from 250 women. The police made some arrests but had shown recovery of only 10 to 15 Tolas gold.
Criminals stormed another temple in Daharki and robbed people. In the third incident, robbers stormed a temple in Ghotki and robbed people. However, the then district police officer (DPO) Irfan Baloch made arrests and recovered each and everything, which was appreciable. This is first time that the religious places had been robbed.
The minority community’s houses have also been looted. The robbers entered Natho Mal’s house in Sakrand city and took away Rs1.4 million. The police made arrests but had shown recovery of Rs500,000 to Rs600,000 only. In Shikarpur, a Panchayat leader’s (Mukhi) house was looted.
RELIGIOUS CONVERSION: Around 18 Hindu girls had been kidnapped and “converted” this year. Some of the events might be the result of love affairS. “We do not have objections over their becoming Muslims but we have objections over the method through which they had been ‘converted’,” Sewani said.
“First they kidnap the girl, marry her and subsequently she is presented before the court. We demand that first, the girl should be kept at a ‘neutral place’ then it should be decided as to whether she had been converted. How we would be convinced that she had not been converted under duress as there are incidents that girls were kidnapped for ulterior motives. One Hindu girl who was reportedly converted and married in Sukkur, was thrown from the third floor of the building on Eid-ul-Azha day and died. Her husband was arrested but later released on bail,” he said.
PLOT: The Hindu community in Pakistan was first targeted in 1972-73 when their women were insulted in Kandhkot under a conspiracy. It inspired Amar Jalil to write a short story on it. Subsequently, a pattern was set that whenever the PPP comes in power, the minority members are targeted as it is the only party, which strives to improve the condition of minorities and empower them, Sewani said. Certain elements want the government in Sindh to fail, and they target Hindus who are loyal to the party, he maintained.
When the PPP came in power in 1988, around 19 Hindus were killed in Karachi and their property was looted. When the PPP assumed power in 2008, Jagdesh, a factory worker was killed over alleged blasphemy. Hindus were targeted on their religious festival (Holi) in Umerkot and the home minister on the Sindh Assembly floor said there was conspiracy against the minority.