Over 200 Hindu families were allowed to cross into Amristar on Friday on their scheduled pilgrimage after a brief detention by Pakistani authorities in Lahore following reports that they were planning to migrate to India to escape from abductions and attacks on their businesses in Upper Sindh.
Though such pilgrimages to temples in India are an annual affair around this time of the year, they caught the media eye this year because of the spate of attacks on members of the Hindu community in Upper Sindh. Several members of the community in Jacobabad are said to have shut shop, sold their properties and moved out of the Upper Sindh district in recent months for fear of their daughters being kidnapped and forcibly converted.
According to the vice-chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (Sindh chapter), Amarnath, 50 per cent of the Hindu community in Upper Sindh have moved out — most of them to the melting pot of Karachi and some to other countries.
After the “exodus” from Jacobabad made it to the Sindhi papers, it was picked up by the national media and became an issue over the past 24 hours with Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Thursday night claiming it was a conspiracy and that the Indian High Commission should explain why so many visas had been issued.
However, various Hindu community leaders maintained that this was “yatra season” and people went on the pilgrimage in large groups.
“They are all going on a short-stay visa for pilgrimage or to meet their families. Whether they will all return is not certain,”' Mr. Amarnath told The Hindu, claiming that over the past three years 3,000 families have moved to India. Last year 300 families had gone to India on pilgrimage and 60 of them stayed back.
While Hindus and other minorities in Sindh have always had it better than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, they have of late become targets; primarily because of a degree of prosperity among some sections of the community.
This has made them easy prey for the Wadheras (feudal lords) of the province. Ironically, the Wadheras who have been giving the community maximum grief owe allegiance to the Pakistan People’s Party, which is said to be the most minority-friendly of all political organisations of Pakistan. Hindus who participated in various television talk shows over the past 24 hours said the Wadheras were targeting them primarily to get them to leave their areas so that their properties can be taken over.
Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari has called for a report on the situation and civil society members agitated by reports of Hindus fleeing their country sought to mobilise support for them and petition the Supreme Court but this was of little consolation to a community which feels let down by the superior judiciary in the Rinkle Kumari case.