Friday, March 3, 2017

From ‘A White Trail. A Journey into the heart of Pakistan's religious minorities’ by Haroon Khalid

Pakistani historiography discards Hindu and Sikh narratives from its discourse and where ever they are mentioned, they are always mentioned negatively.

The Muslim population of the country at the moment is about 97%. Out of the 3% non-Muslims, a large chunk belongs to the Ahmadiyya community; former Muslims, but now declared non-Muslims according to the Constitution of the country. Of the remaining percentage, the majority are Hindus living in the ‘faraway’ ‘peripheral’ regions of Southern Punjab, inner Sindh and Baluchistan. In 1947, when the country was created, the population of the non-Muslims was about 30% (without including the Ahmadiyya community), a majority of whom have migrated or converted to Islam……….

Holi at Multan
……Hiranyakashipu, the tyrant who is believed to have ruled the city of Multan thousands of years ago….Prahlad Bhagat ……His devotees built a temple in the memory of Prahlad at the spot where he supposedly killed his father – on a mound outside the city, which later became a popular spiritual site with mystics and saints. The temple stands even today………abandoned since partition ………the area came to be considered holy, as a result of which Muslim mystics were also attracted……..Bahauddin Zakariya (1170-1267) whose shrine came to be situated next to the temple. The tide of fortune has now turned and the temple which was once the fount of spirituality ……now lies in obscurity under the shadow of this massive shrine, which has become the symbol of the Muslim city of Multan……..there was a time when Hindu temples and Muslim shrines could share a wall and devotees visited both of them, an act almost unimaginable in a post-partition Pakistan.

Banned all over the country, alcohol can be legally purchased by nono-Muslims if they have a permit card, provided to them by the government for the purchase and consumption of alcohol. However, despite this categorization and limits on its sale, alcohol is readily available throughout the country and sold to people without permits. But permits do provide a benefit to the non-Muslims as alcohol is sold at a lower price on this license. Using this economic advantage, somn non-Muslim boys and men purchase alcohol in bulk and sell it to their Muslim clients at exorbitant prices………Despite being readily available, drinking remains a guilty pleasure in Muslim Pakistan.

The majority of the Hindu community of the city is uneducated and unaware of its political rights, given the demonization of the community in the Pakistani society – through education, media, cinema, etc. – most of them are too traumatized by the struggle of their daily existence to take up the cause of an abandoned temple.

………religious distinctions between Hindus and Christians have become blurred in urban Punjab…

Navratri at Bahawalnagar
Akaliyan Mohalla literally means ‘Community of the Minorities’……Compared to Central Punjab, Southern Punjab has been historically tolerant towards other non-Muslim faiths, which is why a significant Hindu population continues to live here…..violence here during the partition never scaled the heights it did in the other regions….A distinguishing feature of the houses here is the use of colourful paints, instead of the conventional white, grey, and the like ……Muslim houses all over the country tend to be more somberly painted.

……….annual pilgrimage to Hinglaj, where a Hindu temple honours an incarnation of Durga. Hinglaj is in Baluchistan, about two hundred and fifty kilometres from the coastal city of Karachi. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims go there every year in October, making it one of the largest Hindu festivals in the country.

The tradition of idol-making in Punjab died a natural death during the massacres of the partition.

Das has been wearing the bangle for a year. He also hasn’t worn shoes in the meantime. Shiia Muslims in Pakistan also indulge in similar offerings to God, promising not to wear shoes or taking up bangles for a particular gift. Despite separate categorization of religious identities as distinct and often conflicting with each other, there are several religious rationale and practices such as this that transcends those boundaries.

Hindu festivals are not officially recognized in Pakistan, so Hindus working at offices have to ask for special holidays

The Peepal tree remains sacred in all the religious traditions of South Asia.

Frequently worn earlier, the sari, sometime after the years of Islamization, became associated with Hindu women and no longer appreciated in a Muslim country.

He would then tie the thread around the wrist of the devotee, still reciting something. The thread is supposed to protect a devotee from all harm. This is also tied to devotees visiting Muslim Sufi shrines, a tradition which clearly overlaps between Hindu and Muslim pilgrims.

A lot of Hindus in Punjab do this, passing off as Muslims or Christians by taking up non-Hindu names. This is a survival technique in a hostile environment.

Shivratri at Killa Katas
Al-Beruni compiled his observations in a book called Al-Hind, which is considered to be one of the best anthropological works of all times. It is the first study which introduced the Indian people and their religion to the Western world. In his book, he claims that the Hindus are believers of one God, like the Muslims, and are ‘Ahl-e-Kitab’ or the ‘Followers of the Book,’ a term used in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, to refer to the Christians and the Jews. By referring to the Hindus as the followers of the book, Al-Beruni raises their status in the eyes of the Muslim readers and urges them not to view them as ‘lowly pagans’……also permits the Muslims to have food with the Hindus and intermarry. However, in contemporary Pakistan, where nationalism is premised upon hatred for Hindus, such a claim would not only be shunned but taken offence to.
This complex-with a natural pond, fossils dating back to millions of years, ancient caves, an unexcavated Buddhist stupa, Hindu temples said to be thousands of years old, and a university which attracted scholars from other parts of the world-is known as Katas Raj or Killa Katas….of immense historical significance….In his pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, …Guru Nanak ….also came here

Contrary to the stereotype of being a religiously oppressive area, since partition, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has been home to a large proportion of religious minorities who have lived there rather peacefully. These are primarily Hindus…. Hindu festivals are celebrated with much pomp in these areas……. The primary reason for that is that unlike Punjab the riots were less intense due to the influence of the Indian National Congress there. A lot of Hindus and Sikhs continued living in their ancestral lands even after the creation of Pakistan.

Shri Valmiki’s Birthday at Lahore
…the bloody partition of Punjab, after which social prejudice and stigma attached with being a Hindu increased immensely. Government school text books are filled with references labelling the Hindus as mischievous and conniving and they are blamed for the bloodshed during the partition. Over the years, this state propaganda has resulted in the Hindu becoming a taboo in this Muslim puritanical society. In order to avoid the social prejudice associated with their religion, a lot of Hindus have now taken up Christian and Muslim names to avoid being noticed in society. A few have even converted to Christianity and Islam. However for all practical purposes, this marriage of convenience is more out of prudence than actual conviction.

Sita gave birth to the twin sons of Ram, Luv and Kush while she was here after she had been banished by Ram. Lahore and Kasur are said to be named after Luv and Kush. There is a temple near the Alamgiri gate of Lahore fort, called the temple of Luv. It is believed that the original temple was built by Luv himself, whereas the current structure goes back to the Mughal era.

Representation of minority groups in the media remains paternalistic; that of an outsider group that needs to be protected and represented in a way that they know best.

Shri Krishna Janmasthami at Lahore
According to the Islamic laws, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Jew or a Christian as they are regarded as followers of the book. However in practice…..Christian girls are converted to Islam before a Muslim man can marry them. It is never the other way around. According to Al-Beruni’s definition, even Hindus are followers of the book, and therefore a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Hindu woman according to the religious laws. However in Pakistan, not many people endorse his point of view and marrying Hindus therefore remains un-Islamic.

Untouchable Hindus who converted in 1947 are referred to as Deendars or Musalis to distinguish them, and are still treated as untouchables by the high-caste Muslims of the area. Converts from the higher castes became Sheikhs. However, importantly, the caste titles remain, to distinguish those who have converted recently from those who were ‘original’ Muslims.

A Pilgrimage to Maryabad

……unlike the Hindus, the Christian community has a formidable presence in the Punjab. This means that the political parties and leaders also have to cater to their interests, unlike the Hindus, who are a smaller community…….and can therefore be ignored. The Christians are represented through powerful establishments like the Churches and …..schools, colleges, and hospitals which have been set up by Christian missionaries….Even though according to the census of 1998, the Hindu majority is the largest minority in the country, with Christians in the second place, most of the Hindus are scattered in Sindh, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with only a few in Punjab. The Christians on the other hand have an overwhelming majority in the Punjab (among the minorities) and are visible in the social fabric….

Even though a lot of untouchable Hindus initially converted to avoid the stigma associated with their caste, it nonetheless continued to haunt them even after conversion. For the high caste Muslims, these low caste Christians remained un-touchables referred derogatorily to as chuhras……..Even in prominent cities like Lahore, several Muslims refuse to eat with Christians and consider utensils used by them as impure. Ironically, it was the Muslims who were treated as untouchables by high-caste Hindus in the old days. In upholding this concept of untouchability the Muslims of Pakistan are practicing an Islam tainted with the flavor of the worst of Hinduism.
So even though this attitude of impurity originally started with low-caste Hindu converts to Christianity, it soon started dominating the nature of interaction with all Christians, even those who belonged to the former higher-castes of Hinduism………..A lot of low end hotels and restaurants not only in rural areas but even in metropolitan cities…….have separate utensils for Christians. A common practice is for Christians to announce their “caste” before eating at a small restaurant so that the owner takes the necessary precautions, to avoid embarrassment later.

There was a time when famous singers like Madam Noor Jahan and Arif Lohar used to sing and record Christian gospels……The trend……is now on the ebb…… that the society has become so polarized….

Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary at Lahore
The Ahamdiyyas being allowed to live peacefully in India and persecuted in Pakistan is a strange irony of history toying ……..The Ahmadiyya community played a prominent role in the creation of Pakistan, a country where they thought they would be allowed to practice their religion freely.

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