Hindus of Pakistan

Location: Sind province, Pakistan
Population: approximately 1.5 million
% of population: 1.6% of population of Pakistan; 7.5% of Sind population
Religion: Hindu
Language: Sindhi

The Hindus of Pakistan are a religious minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim society. They constitute about one-and-a-half-million or about 1.6% of the population of 96 million. They live primarily in the urban areas of the province of Sind in the lower Indus valley and over half are concentrated in the south-east district of Thar Parkar which borders India. For the most part Hindus in Pakistan are well educated and active in commerce, trade and the civil service.

Sind at one time had a Hindu majority; however, invasion and later settlement by Arabs, Persians and Turks and conversion by Sindhis to Islam led to a decrease in the proportion of Hindus. Prior to Partition in 1947 a quarter of the population of Sind was Hindu but after widespread inter-religious violence in the North West Frontier Province and in the Punjab the great majority of Hindus living in Pakistan elected to migrate to India. Sindhi Hindus joined in the migration, fearful that violence might spread to their province after Partition. By late 1948 most had left Sind for India, where large numbers settled in Rajasthan, Delhi and Bombay.

Those Hindus who elected to stay in Pakistan after Partition were faced with constitutional and other limitations imposed generally on all non-Muslims. The Preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan states that “adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures” and that “adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of the minorities and backward and depressed classes”. Although barred from holding the highest offices, the religious freedom of Hindus has not been threatened; nevertheless there is an element of distrust towards the Hindus, who are believed by many to be pro-India, and during the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971 many Hindus were suspected of being Indian informers. Some students have suffered discrimination as a result of the government quota scheme whereby only a certain number from minority groups are accepted into higher education.

Under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who came to power in 1971, the provinces of Pakistan became increasingly subordinate to central authority despite assurances of their continued autonomy. Greater constitutional powers were given to the central executive, and the country’s economic, political and administrative institutions were reorganized with the aim of centralizing power further. The process continued after 1977 after the rise of Zia ul-Haq and in 1982 Sindhis joined with other minority groups in forming the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). In 1984 the MRD led anti-government demonstrations in a movement which erupted into widespread violence. Thousands of protestors were imprisoned. In late 1985 Sindhi leaders met leaders of the Baluchi and Pashtoun groups in London and set out demands for a confederal form of government. A few months later the radical Awami National Party was formed. While Hindus were not in the forefront of these political movements they tended to be sympathetic to moves both for greater religious tolerance and provincial autonomy, including linguistic autonomy. Their interests were however opposed to the Mohajirs — Muslim immigrants who came from India during and after 1947 — and who tend to speak Urdu or Punjabi.

In the “partyless” elections of 1985, held by President Zia after the lifting of martial law, Hindus and other religious minorities were allocated separate electorates in nationwide minority constituencies. Previously, the minority groups had voted in general electorates in which they resided and members of the National Assembly subsequently elected members from the minority communities to sit in the legislature. The system of separate electorates was retained in the November 1988 elections — the first general elections since 1976. Ten of the 207 seats in the National Assembly were set aside for minorities. This included four seats for Hindus, four for Christians, one for Ahmadis and one for smaller groups such as Parsis, Sikhs, Baha’is, Jews and the Kalash tribe. Some Hindus were opposed to the system of the separate electorates, which they maintain dilutes the influence of the community and paves the way for further segregation. Most Hindu candidates concentrated their efforts on the Thar Parkar district and neglected smaller Hindu communities. Other Hindus defend the system as giving them a direct minority voice in the Assembly.

(See also Ahmadis of Pakistan; Muslims of India)