Human rights activists are perturbed by the erosion of minority rights, particularly the alarming frequency with which cases of forcible conversion of Hindu girls are surfacing. Ansar Buney, chairman of the Ansar Buney Welfare Trust, is dismayed: "It's heart-rending to see forced conversion of Hindus to Islam, since the Pakistan that Jinnah had envisioned granted absolute religious freedom to the minorities." He then asks, "Have you ever heard of an Indian Muslim girl being forced to embrace Hinduism?"
I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, links the erosion of minority rights to the process of Islamisation that the military regime, under President Zia-ul-Haq, initiated in the eighties.
"Cultural marginalisation and religious persecution have resulted in many Hindus leaving Pakistan."
Pakistan was declared an Islamic republic, its social and political life was influenced by the Islamist agenda; the Hindus have had fewer privileges and rights since then. "Apparently, cultural marginalisation, discrimination, economic hardships and religious persecution
have resulted in many Hindus leaving Pakistan, especially those in Sindh. The Musharraf-led government needs to stop the continued social oppression of the religious minorities here," Rehman told Outlook.
Aurat Foundation's Nuzzhat Shirin too blames Islamic fanaticism for the ordeal of Hindus. "It's Muslims winning by intimidation. It's Muslims overcoming a culture by threatening it, by abducting young girls so that an entire community moves out or succumbs to the Muslim murderers," she says. Shirin, however, says the crime against Hindu girls should also be seen from the perspective of gender discrimination rampant in Pakistan.
The foundation's figures show that on average 10 women are killed daily countrywide in honour crimes. "The ratio is higher in the northern tribal areas, with cultural affinity to Afghan tribal practices. Not only that, on average, two women are raped every hour in Pakistan. During 2005, close to 600 women committed suicide across Pakistan.
Rehman links the erosion of minority rights to the process of Islamisation of the military in the eighties.
This is just one indicator of the depression characterising the lives of women," she points out.
Human rights activist Hina Jillani says Hindus and Christians in Pakistan are looked down upon. "That is why they have to take up inferior jobs; their chances of rising in any field is low," she told Outlook. Though a few Hindus have taken advantage of secular institutions and sports to rise to positions of prominence, Jillani feels the system is loaded heavily against them. She cites the example of Pakistani cricketer Yousaf Youhana who was Christian. She insists he converted to Islam and became Mohammad Yousuf because otherwise he would have no chance becoming Pakistan's cricket captain.
Jillani feels concrete steps should be taken to allay the fears of Hindus. She suggests the reconstruction of temples that were destroyed in Sindh and Punjab in 1992. "General Musharraf, who claims to be the only liberal and secular leader of the country, has taken no steps to rebuild these temples, thereby showing his government too is least concerned about the rights and security of the minorities in Pakistan."