The Global Social Network
A recent New York Times piece titled "Poor and Desperate, Pakistani Hindus Accept Islam to Get By" talks of "Pakistan’s dwindling Hindu minority". An earlier New York Times story in December 2019 mentioned "the pressure for (Pakistani) Hindus to weigh moving to India". The paper also reported that "the Indian government granted 12,732 long-term visas, compared with 4,712 in 2017, and 2,298 in 2016". These stories raise two questions: 1. Is Hindu population in Pakistan declining? 2. Are Hindus moving to India better off than they were in Pakistan? Let me try to answer both of these questions.
Hindu Population in Pakistan:
There are 8.4 million Hindus in Pakistan as of 2018, according to Pakistan Hindu Council. Hindus, including low-caste Hindus, make up 4% of Pakistan's population, a much higher percentage than 1.85% back in 1998.
|Hinduism is the Fastest Growing Religion in Pakistan. Source: Pew R...|
Contrary to the sensational media headlines about declining Hindu population in Pakistan, the fact is that Hindu birth rate is significantly higher than the country's national average. Although Hindus make up only 4% of Pakistan's population, it is among the worlds fastest growing Hindu communities today, growing faster than the Hindu populations in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Myth of Hindu Paradise in India:
Pakistani Hindus who migrated to India number in thousands, a tiny fraction of Hindu population of over 8 million in Pakistan. Those who were lured by the media coverage painting India as a Hindu paradise have been deeply disappointed. Many of them are low-caste Hindus who have faced discrimination by upper caste Hindus in India. They are barred from temples and assaulted for drinking from community wells.
A New York Times story featured Baghchand Bheel as a case of disappointed Pakistani Hindus who left for India hoping for a Hindu paradise. “You take these decisions sometimes out of excitement for what your life could be. Then you arrive and realize it’s much different on the ground.”
Baghchand Bheel is of a lower caste, and when he tried to enter a Hindu temple, he was barred entry by the priest because of it, he said. And when a friend tried to drink from the community water well, he was physically assaulted by upper caste Brahmins who accused him of polluting it, according to New York Times.
What Pakistani Hindus face in India today goes back to 1947. In "The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India", Indian author Nandita Bhavnani has written about it. Here's an excerpt:
"Many (Pakistani) Dalits who migrated (whether at the time of partition or subsequently) faced humiliation and discrimination at the hands of caste Hindus in India after Partition. In some cases, they were taken by separate ships or trains. Tillo Jethmalani, who was subsequently posted as camp commandant at Marwar Junction, recalls how one goods train filled with Dalit refugees from Sindh arrived in the middle of Rajasthan winter night, with Dalits lying freezing and semi-conscious inside the goods wagons. Even in refugee camps in India, Dalits were given separate living quarters and dining areas, thus maintaining the status quo of ghettoization."
Contented Pakistani Hindu:
In a piece tiled "A Pakistani Hindu Said He Didn’t Want to Live in India. Here’s Why" published in The Quint in December 2019, Indian writer Akhil Bakshi wrote about his meeting with Ravi Kumar, a Pakistani Hindu, in Nairobi, Kenya. Soon after exchanging pleasantries in Hindustani, Ravi Kumar smiled and said, “Let me clarify that I am not an Indian. I am a Pakistani.”
Here's an exchange reported by the Indian writer:
“It must be difficult for your family to live in Pakistan?” I asked a leading question.
“On the contrary, we are extremely happy there,” he retorted, astonishing me.
“Are you not discriminated against?”
“Not at all! We feel like equal citizens. My family lives in Karachi and nobody has ever bothered us. We are a successful business family trading in rice.”
“But isn't the Hindu community in Pakistan generally impoverished?”
“Not in Karachi. We are probably the most prosperous community. The entire rice trade — milling, retail and wholesale — is controlled by Hindus. They all live in great comfort. I have relocated to Benin — from where I supply rice to West Africa".
“Haven't you ever thought about relocating to India? Do you not want to free yourself of a dismal, perilous existence in Pakistan and migrate to India to seek succour of freedom and a liberal democracy?” I asked.
He looked at me with a hard stare but replied politely: “You are trying to put words into my mouth. Firstly, our life in Pakistan is not miserable. We are very much a part of the mainstream. I am a Pakistani at heart. Secondly, India is the last place I would like to migrate to. I have been to Bombay thrice — to source rice for West Africa — as Pakistan did not have enough surplus for export. All three times it has been a dreadful experience. Right from the time you land, you are questioned and hounded as if you are a terrorist. I had to report to the police station every day. And all that the authorities did was to pick my pockets. I spent most of my time waiting at police stations than at business meetings. I don't like the undignified way I am treated in India. Now I am on my way to source rice from Thailand — over-flying India.”
"Forced" Conversions & Marriages:
Indian media and Pakistani "liberals" go into overdrive every time there is an interfaith marriage involving a Hindu girl and a Muslim man occurs. Pakistani Hindu activist and lawyer Kalpana Devi says that even willing conversions of Hindu girls to Islam are often labeled as "forced conversions". She says there is media hype and distortions of facts relating to such conversions. It is important to understand the Hindu community’s patriarchal structures. It is not unusual for Hindu families to attempt to avoid social stigma by falsely characterizing all conversions and marriages of their daughters as "forced".
Facts and data show that New York Times' coverage of Hindus in Pakistan is highly exaggerated. There is no truth in the NYT claim of "dwindling Hindu minority" in Pakistan. The New York Times' claims of pressure on Pakistani Hindus to migrate is highly exaggerated. No more than a few thousand among 8 million Pakistani Hindus have migrated to India. And those who have migrated have been deeply disappointed. India is no paradise for Pakistani Hindus. Conversions and marriages involving Hindu girls are often incorrectly characterized as "forced".