The minority within a minority
When one talks about minorities in Pakistan the usual impression is that they are Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. However, there is, as Sono Khangharani, a low-caste Hindu from Sindh who rose to prominence from humble origins, put it, a minority within this minority. They are the Dalits of Pakistan – the low-caste Hindus. There are six million of them, and while Hindus do not consider them Hindus, the State simply classifies them as a Hindu minority. Thus they are subjected to discrimination from both sides.
Although the Dalit community has come a long way in Pakistan and there is relatively less discrimination against them, there are various issues that underline the social life of this community. Some of the important issues are identity and recognition, less economic opportunity, no support mechanism, and because majority of Dalits are tenants on other people’s land, most of them do not have a permanent address, and thus are not issued the Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC).
Something the low-caste Hindus in Pakistan, as well as in India, look forward to, is identity and recognition, which is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a human life. Three per cent of the population of Pakistan is classified as a minority, out of which, 50 per cent are Hindus. Interestingly, nine out of 10 of these Hindus belong to the Dalit community. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had installed a Dalit Federal Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, but that was the first and only instance when a Dalit occupied such a position in the government of Pakistan. Since then, the six per cent job quota of the “scheduled castes” in the federal services of Pakistan was changed into a “minority quota” in 1998. Dr. Meghwar and KrishanBheel (Dalit MNAs at the time) found it futile to raise any objection to such a conversion.
This further aggravated the recognition issue of Dalits as they were now part of a minority that refused to accept them as their own.
Lack of economic opportunity is another grave concern for the Dalits. As majority of the low-caste Hindu population present in Sindh and southern Punjab does not own any land. Rather, they are tenants for the big landlords of the area. As a result, they are not only subject to harsh working conditions on the whims of their landlords, but can end up in bonded labor to pay off petty debts.
Sono Khangharani shared one such story, where a Dalit acquired a loan of approximately Rs 5,000 and was forced along with his whole family to work for the landlord for years to come to try to pay off his debt, only to end up with an increased debt of around Rs 100,000.
In such a scenario, the already uneducated low-caste Hindu tenants lose any economic opportunity that they would otherwise be able to avail. This coupled with no support mechanism makes life hard for the minority within a minority.
The very few people who have come up from within this community of Dalits in Pakistan are the only support structure for their own community. While the State simply puts them under the three per cent minority, they barely find any emancipation among influential caste Hindus or Christians. Thardeep Rural Development Program is one of the few programs that cater to the needs of the rural population of Tharparker, where over 35 per cent of the population forms the low-caste Hindus.
As most of the minority seats of government, even in districts such as Tharpakar, are won by caste-Hindus, government support and sympathy for this downtrodden sector of the society remains negligible.
As I mentioned earlier, low-caste Hindus face an identity crisis. This is not only because of the fact that caste Hindus refuse to acknowledge the Dalits as their brethren in faith, but because a majority of Dalits are tenants with no land ownership at all.
They live in make-shift houses made of wood and mud, and can be forced to migrate to other places on the convenience of landlords as well as the harsh natural environment of the desert areas they usually live in. This means they do not have a permanent address in Pakistan and are not even counted in the national census.
As a result, they are not issued Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs). Somewhat resonating the Palestinians, the Dalits become stateless. Even though, some are being issued CNICs, majority remains without an identity.
Education is the way forward. For the low-caste Hindus present in Pakistan and elsewhere, it is important that education be provided to them. Despite the discrimination that is prevalent in educational institutes against low-caste Hindus as I was told by SonoKhangharani, who represents his community in the United Nations every year, it is the only way Dalits can come out of the darkness they currently find themselves in. Self-awareness, self-help and community recognition coupled with government recognition and support for educating the larger masses of low-caste Hindus will result in many more successful empowered leaders from this community.
The approximately six million Dalits in Pakistan have come a long way from where they stood only a generation ago, but for true emancipation and empowerment, there is a long road ahead. While acceptance of Dalits is still not where it should be, some have come out of bonded labor and availed economic opportunities to make their lives better and become a support structure for their community.
Whereas, the State may recognize and issue identity cards in the future, true empowerment can only come once the caste Hindus accept Dalits as Hindus, and once the government realizes that how this community in Pakistan has become a minority within a minority.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Posted on August 1, 2011
harish goswami says:
Today at 4:33 pm (42 minutes ago)
it is indeed a good article focusing plight of dalits in pakistan. i would suggest people of pakistan know the real state of minority that left in to the hands of present day rulers by jinnah.
Today at 4:24 pm (51 minutes ago)
Under our skin we all have one colour of Blood.
Today at 12:28 pm (4 hours ago)
A well written and thoughtful piece of editorial. I totally agree with the writer’s view and his recommendation that EDUCATION IS THE ONLY WAY OUT. I am an India and a forward caste. I don’t believe in segregation based on caste. I hope the same is not present in Islam.
This has to change and is changing for the good in India now but still has to go a long way.
Danish Shah Tariq says:
Today at 9:04 am (8 hours ago)
Thank you for focusing on this very important issue. I wasn’t even aware of Dalits being present in Pakistan.
Today at 9:01 am (8 hours ago)
It is sad to hear about Upper Caste Hindus in Pakistan discriminating their Dalit brethren. Indians have moved on and it is time the Pakistanis do too. Pakistani Hindus should learn from the Indian experience and try and end the caste system.
Today at 8:35 am (8 hours ago)
As always, Mr. Humayun has raised an important issue. Lets’ call them a minority if not Dalits. The problem is that there are not many Hindus or minority left in the present day Pakistan. This is absolutely contradictory to the vision of Mr. Jinnah, who had the foresight and hoped for the equality of casts and religions. Mr. Jinnah may not recognize his nation if he were still alive. Not only Dalits, but Sufies are being targeted, although for different reasons.
Paul K says:
Today at 7:54 am (9 hours ago)
Very is an interesting article. Excellent question from Mr. Matthias. What happened to the 17 to 20% minority population at the time of the creation of Pakistan? Another interesting comment by the author of the article is that “ There are six million Dalits in present Pakistan, whom Hindus do not consider them as Hindus”. This is the snap shot of the Dalit dilemma in India as well at the time of Indian Partition. They did not enjoy any sort of social dignity including the right to be a human being. As a result the plight of the Dalits is considered as the longest slavery in the history of humanity. It is strange that all of a sudden, BJP consider them as Hindus (a mass instantaneous conversion- wonder of the vote bank politics).
Today at 7:29 am (9 hours ago)
Pak Dalit Solidarity Network NGO currently working for the Dalits in Pakistan
Tufail malik says:
Today at 7:01 am (10 hours ago)
I appreciate your research and it will leave impact on the govt. to consider about these people, they belong to Pakistan and they should be given equal rights and opportunities to develop.
civi varghese says:
Today at 2:46 am (14 hours ago)
You are very bold to write this article.Congrats Mr.Humayun.I have been believing that 10% non-muslims in Pakistan!
Rizwan Afridi says:
Today at 2:15 am (15 hours ago)
Most of them were in East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh (which is still 15-20% Hindu). That is a fact that is often overlooked by people who try to create a fictitious Hindu holocaust in Pakistan that never occured. West Pakistan never had a large percentage of Hindus, East Pakistan did. East Pakistan is no longer Pakistan, so the percentage dropped, and people just assume they were all killed.
Today at 3:54 pm (1 hour ago)
No my dear ! Lahore and Karachi were Hindu majority cities. Two Hindu majority districts of West Punjab were giiven to Pakistan and two muslim majority districts were given to India. Both East and West Pakistan had the same 30 percent approx hindu population.
Qasim Khan says:
Today at 2:04 am (15 hours ago)
A very touching story – in Pakistan everyone seems to be for themselves and as one politician put it “we are a crowd not a community”. As for figures on Dalits i’m a bit confused, out of 180 million 3% are minorities of which half are hindus and one out of ten hindus is Dalit, According to my figures there are 250,000 Dalits.
A Khan says:
Today at 12:31 am (16 hours ago)
Very very good article. Please encourage these people to stand up for their rights and ask for their rights Not using guns but expose themselves to the society. They are Not Muslims but they are our people and we love them. I have full confidence, when the government and people know about them, they will help them to stand up on their feet and also put them in par with other people.
Look at Christian and Sheeks in Pakistan, because they struggle for their rights and they got it. Please remember it is NOt because you are not Muslim you are like that. Many many Muslims are living wrose life than urs. So stand up for your right and believe me our nation is good enough to give u, ur rights. love u all.
Yesterday at 11:38 pm
It is said, if one wants to see the status of a nation than look at condition of minority it would tell you the real truth. Be it any nation its fundamental duty of state to provide and take care of social and economic need of minority, but unfortunately these people becomes victim of vote bank politics of our feudal political system. It is not about the government duty but we the people also do not wish to think out of box and act to bring about change in present structure of the society, perhaps our deep rooted conservative socialization prevent us in doing so…
A great article by Mr. Humayun.
Yesterday at 10:34 pm
Daliis in India have risen to the highest post form CM of the Uttar Pardesh (Mrs Maya Wati) to the speaker of house to the drafting of Indian cosntitution ( Sri Ambedkarji).
India is a liand of opportunity for all from Muslims ,Chrisitans,Sikhs Hindus and even non Indians.
It is land where any one on planet earth can fulfill all his dreams.
Sabu Thaliyath says:
Today at 11:04 am (6 hours ago)
Harinder … I am an Indian too…although what you said about India being land of opportunity for all is true, your last statement sounds like jingoism..
Yesterday at 8:23 pm
To Brother M.A. Muhammad: I live in the US (a non Muslim country)/ Your remark that non Muslims treats Muslims badly is absolutely in correct. We Muslims enjoy more freedom here than in Pakistan. There are no Shias-Sunnis etc. We are all equal and the locals dont even bother to “enforce” their beliefs on us. There are of course some incidents of discrimination and even shooting of Muslims that have occurred but they are extremely few and far between & when they do occur the law of the land straightens that out. Now of course I am talking about USA and you maybe referring to places like Europe or former Soviet Union or even Africa, I don’t know.
Taatya Singh says:
Yesterday at 8:16 pm
“Hindus do not recognize them as Hindus”??? Not sure where you’re getting that from. Not trying to nit pick but the problem is that this has been mentioned almost thrice. It is true that they are treated poorly by caste Hindus. In India, like it has been mentioned, there are reservations galore for the past 50 years for backward castes so there’s some amount of help. But society has a long ways to go – especially in the rural areas.
Yesterday at 7:30 pm
They should embrace Islam.
dave smith says:
Yesterday at 7:01 pm
Sounds like the Dalits are a conquered people from long ago. As it is with any invasion, the invaders deem themselves, their culture and religion superior to the native inhabitants way of life. Considering the Hindu faith is so ancient, wondering when the “Dalits” were conquered and pushed down the social ladder?
Yesterday at 6:16 pm
Sactioned by the Vedas, the caste system has divided, sub-divided, sub-sub divided the Hindu population with devastating effects. Luckily Hindus living in the US have for the most part put aside these differeces. Intercast marriages are a rule than an exception.
Yesterday at 5:50 pm
Good article from Humayun…this really a story of subcontinental without hope,because there is no laws that support dalits,unlike India…there is no minority commission or schedule cast rights commission.Pakistan liberals ignored dalits as their India counterparts,,,but India they have rights guaranteed by constitution of India. Pakistan liberals show some kindness to dalits to improve conditions of dalits.Indian dalit organisation must look into the issue of dalits as unfinished agenda of partition.
Rizwan Afridi says:
Today at 2:23 am (14 hours ago)
The worst thing that could happen to Dalit rights in Pakistan is if Indian organizations get involved and treat Dalits as non-resident Indians. This is a Pakistani issue, and if Hindu rights become tied to India, then no one in Pakistan will care much for Hindus because they will be viewed as Indians instead of Pakistani Hindus. The situation will be analogous to how right-wing Hindus view Indian Muslims with suspicion. So please, don’t turn the cause of Pakistani Hindus into a cause for Indians.
Yesterday at 5:13 pm
First of all, I will appreciate your efforts and the subject you chose to hilight , which hardly a concern of our elite and feud society. It reveals your human loving nature, which is seemingly becoming a rare thing in our fast converting fundamental society.
Yesterday at 4:32 pm
Caste-system is a curse. It should be officially banned in Pakistan.
Yesterday at 7:49 pm
Every means of discrimination is a curse and should be banned, be it caste or religion.
Yesterday at 11:09 pm
Caste system is not only biggest flaw in Hindu religion, it is causing or even forcing lower castes to adopt other religions in the region including India. Millions baba and so called came and gone but nobody made any sincere effort to eradicate this hindu cancer which is slowly will kill hinduism and Hindu society itself. Hindus are fast running out of time.
M. A. Muhammad says:
Yesterday at 4:10 pm
To the gentlemen below (Hasan Ali Rana) — even if they are half a million, it doesn’t change the fact that they deserve to live with dignity and in security in our country. We are the ummat of Muhammad, and yet we treat the downtrodden outsiders worse than non-Muslims treat us in their countries. And worse yet, we ignore that they even exist.
hassan Ali RANA says:
Yesterday at 11:21 pm
sir i agree with you , but the wrong stats portray wrong picture. he needs to correct the stats or provide the proof(if there is any????).
Today at 11:45 am (5 hours ago)
Well said M.A.Muhammad. Whilst it is important to relate accurate figures, Muslims shame themselves when they show such obvious inhumanity. Pakistan should consider the strength a nation displays when it gives public protection and indeed prominence to minorities.
Hamza M. says:
Yesterday at 4:06 pm
Great article Siddique.. my thoughts go out to these communities. Thank you for bringing attention to the systemic problems they are facing.
hassan ali rana says:
Yesterday at 3:45 pm
six million is an exaggeration. plz check stats before putting in articles. thanks
Ms Shah says:
Yesterday at 3:03 pm
Is there any NGO currently working for the Dalits? Where did u compile your facts and figures from? Also, how can one be put in contact with a member of the Dalit community?
Yesterday at 2:06 pm
Its a very good article by mr.Humayun. Six million Dalits in Pakistan??? 3% minorities? strange,, being Pakistani, they dont have National ID Cards? what I heard that during 1947 there were approx. 17% – 20% non muslims were there in Pak what happened to them? where are they?
Asif Noorani says:
Yesterday at 8:11 pm
When we say there were 17% minorities (mostly Hindus of different castes) we forget that 14% of them were in what was East Pakistan, so when the eastern wing of the country became a separate wing, the large chunk of minorities became a part of Bangladesh. A point to remember is that most of the Hinduswho have let Pakistan in recent years are from the middle or upper class and they have migrated to the West, like all other communities including Muslims, for better prospects.
Conerned Indian says:
Today at 10:17 am (6 hours ago)
I have the same question. What happened to the minorities of Pakistan. How their numbers have dwindled so fast to such a low percentage. One never gets an answer from any one to such a simple question. Can any one from Pakistan give their version of answer to this mystery?
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