The election of 39-year-old Krishna Kumari as the first Hindu Dalit woman to occupy a place in Pakistan’s Senate shines a spotlight on Pakistan’s long-suffering Hindu minority. Escaping a life of forced labour, her rise to the forefront of Pakistani politics is nothing short of inspiring.
Similarly, the tireless struggle of 52-year-old Veeru Kohli against slavery in Pakistan has drawn widespread recognition. A Hindu from Sindh, Kohli worked as a bonded labourer for 20 years and now fearlessly advocates against the system of indentured servitude which operates with impunity across the country.
These women are just two examples of the brilliance, tenacity and integrity of Pakistan’s deeply marginalised Hindu community. At a time when Pakistan’s Hindu minority remains deeply vulnerable in the face rising extremism, it is essential to remember the integral role played by Hinduism in Pakistan’s culture and civilisation.
According to historians, Hinduism was the earliest religion to take hold in the Indus Valley. The Indus River, which has served as the site for a multiplicity of civilisations including the Hindu Vedic Civilisation, was originally called Sindu, meaning Hindu. The cradle of one of the world’s most ancient civilisation, the Indus was and still is revered by both Hindu and Muslim communities in Sindh.
The name Jhule Lal given to the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is a Hindu name which refers to the god of water. Today, Sindhi fishermen still invoke Jhuley Lal when venturing out to sea to ensure their safe return.
Pakistan’s rich Sufi heritage is also shared by the Hindu community. For example, the name Jhule Lal given to the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is a Hindu name which refers to the god of water. Today, Sindhi fishermen still invoke Jhuley Lal when venturing out to sea to ensure their safe return.
The land of Sindh holds such special importance for India’s Sindhi community that when the deletion of the word ‘Sindh’ from the Indian national anthem was considered there was great protest. In 2005, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Sindhi community asserting that a national anthem was ‘a hymn or song expressing patriotic sentiments or feelings’ and ‘not a chronicle which defines the territory of the nation.’
“Beyond Sindh and across Pakistan, ancient Hindu empires have left their own special footprint: the Katas Raj temples in the Punjab, the Kalat Kali temple of Balochistan and the Raja Gira Fort in Swat are just a few enduring testaments to the land’s primordial Hindu past.”
The Hindu temples of Pakistan continue to draw people from all faiths as places of solace and spirituality. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, journalist and author of Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience, Reema Abbasi explained, “It seems these sites have transcended all faiths and that’s why often Muslims go to these sites in the belief that something that is so ancient, with such mystique, pulls people and keeps them coming back. Some go for blessings; others believe it’s a place that should be respected for all that it has seen.”
The ancient ties of Pakistan’s Hindus to the land must not be undermined any longer. Sadly, discrimination against this minority means that Hindus face acute economic exclusion, often relegated to undertaking the most menial of jobs like roadside sweepers and janitors in government offices. Several endure lives of serfdom in Pakistan’s feudal heartlands. Hindus constitute just over two percent of Pakistan’s 200 million population. Statistics reveal that increasing numbers are fleeing to India to escape persecution.
With increasing sectarian strife and religious intolerance taking hold, it is all too easy to forget our shared heritage. The temples and Sufi shrines of the past are a reminder of the transience of this worldly life, our inescapable mortality and ultimately the grave error of discrimination and prejudice.The great Sufi Baba Fareed cautions us of how we are united in a common destiny, “In conceit, I have kept the turban on my head free of dirt, Forgetful that my very head is to be consumed by dirt one day.” In today’s polarised Pakistan, these words must not be forgotten.
By: Mashaal Gauhar