Strangers in their own land
Balochistan’s Hindus are migrating because of security fears
On December 2, police found an abandoned vehicle at a parking lot in Quetta. It belonged to Dr Manoj Kumar, a noted educationist in the city and a medical officer at a government hospital in the nearby town of Dadhar. He had been abducted. Two months later, he was set free in the Hazarganji suburb of the provincial capital. A source in his family said they let him go after they were paid Rs 14 million.
Hindus in Quetta say it is not an isolated incident. Although security has improved for the minority community since this government took over, they say they live in fear.
“We are soft targets,” a Hindu trader said. “We cannot put up a resistance. We have to pay the ransom.”
Balochistan’s chief minister, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, told reporters last year that law-enforcement agencies in his province had arrested or killed most members of 72 gangs involved in abduction for ransom. Recent newspaper reports suggest security forces have stepped up action against militant groups in Balochistan since the prime minister announced a National Action Plan to combat terrorism.
But a Hindu rights activists says at least 45 Hindu families left their hometown in the Mach district of Balochistan last year because of security fears, and massive migration of Hindus has been reported out of Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung districts.
Hindus are among the oldest dwellers of Balochistan. “It is not known exactly how and when the Hindus settled in Balochistan, but it is said that before the invasion of Mohammad Bin Qasim in 712, they lived in areas near Karachi, such as Hub, Lasbela, Kalat and Sevi (now known as Sibi),” says Prof Aziz Mohammad Bugti, a renowned author based in Quetta.
“We are soft targets”
Sham Kumar, a Hindu intellectual, says they ruled parts of Balochistan before the Arab invasion. “In those days, Hinduism and Buddhism were dominant in Balochistan and Sindh,” he says.
Two Hindu temples from those times still survive – the Hinglaj Mata temple in Lasbela and the Kali Mata temple in Kalat. “They are reminiscent of the strong influence that Hindus had in Balochistan in those times,” says Prof Bugti.
The historic Kalat city is named after the fabled Hindu ruler Kalat Seva, he says. The Chaman district of Balochistan, which is now part of the Pashtun belt, was likely named after famous Hindu fruit trader Chaman Das. But the town of Hindu Bagh, in the Qilla Saifullah district, was renamed Muslim Bagh.
Hindus have played a prominent role in the Baloch economy over centuries, and were as much a part of the Baloch society as any other community. Inayatullah Baloch says in his book The Problem of Greater Balochistan that during the siege of Kalat in 1839, Finance Minister Dewan Bucha Mull, a Hindu, sacrificed his life to defend Kalat.
“Hindus live in almost all districts of Balochistan, other than the Makran division,” says Dr Mohan Kumar, who belongs to the ruling National Party. They lived in the province after the Partition peacefully and without fear, until at least the 1970s.
A Hindu teacher said some Hindus in Balochistan considered themselves “superior” until the 1980s. “After Gen Ziaul Haq took over the country, things began to change,” he said. “We are insecure now, and we feel that we do not have the support of the local people the way we did in the past.”
A national newspaper reported in 2013 that 13,000 Hindus had migrated out of Dera Bugti since 2006, when the security situation worsened in the area. But a Hindu who belongs to Dera Bugti but is now settled in Quetta does not agree with the figure. “The total number of Hindus in Dera Bugti was not more than 2,000.”
The emigration began after the death of former chief minister Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, said the Hindu teacher, escalating sharply between 2010 and 2014.
In a press conference in October last year, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairwoman Zohra Yusuf had said 300,000 Shias, Zikris, and Hindus had left the province because of security concerns.
Some moved to other parts of the province because they are not ready to leave their homeland. “Many Hindu families have resettled in Mastung,” says Munir Ahmad, a local stringer.
But the community complains the provincial government has done very little to address their fears and stop the migration.
“We live in fear,” says the Hindu teacher. “We feel like strangers in our own land.”
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta
The Friday Times