By Ayesha Ramzan

It struck me when my son, now in grade four, asked if Hindus were bad because they worshipped idols; not only that, but recently a student (Hindu as per religious belief and Sindhi by ethnicity) in my class generally remarked that he was attending Islamiate class because there are no other options in the university to have a single student enrolled in a different course. Why does it happen so often? How do you etch such discriminations in the psyche of a child?

Students are studying on the rug in a primary school in Mithi, Tharparkar. Photo Credit: Nizam Samoon

Article 22 (1) clearly guarantees, “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.” There is an Ethics course at the university and college level for non-Muslim students but in practice allowing one or a few students to study the course becomes a very difficult task for the institution management. Hence, the law (Article 22 (1)) hardly is ever implemented.

The ethnic and religious diversity should have been a boon for our country, yet it has become our bane- a constant reminder of how we have categorically denied the believers of Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism their socio-economic rights and identity. According to the last census report (1998), there are about 1.16 (Urban dwellers) and the rural areas 1.80 (Rural population) of Hindus.

The majority of Hindus of Sindh are placed in the lower caste called untouchables or Dalit. “They work as landless bonded labourers, or servants doing jobs (sweepers, scavengers, etc.). About a million of them live in what used to be the Mirpurkhas division nearly 350,000 in the extremely arid district of Tharparkar” (Syed, Anwar 2006. The Dawn).

Tharparkar is one of the districts where a considerable proportion of Hindu population abides, and what can not be overlooked is that it has the lowest Human Development Index in all districts of Sindh. But interestingly, it has a crime rate of less than 2 percent. The level of violence has remained considerably low in these areas even during the time of partition.

However, those who stayed have undergone all sorts of persecution and pain. Economically deprived, and socially a pariah treatment is what is indubitable agony for all minorities in Pakistan- particularly the Hindus residing in rural Sindh. The case of forced marriages of young Hindu Girls to convert them is to cite one of the few examples.

Just three years back, the PPP Co-Chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari declared in a confessional tone in his message on the eve of Minorities Day on August 11, 2014:

“On the eve of Minorities Day today there is a grim thought that crosses the mind: there is no minority community in the country that does not feel besieged and hardly any minority community is able to assert that it is completely safe.”

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited Sindh, recently in 2015, no less than a political stunt, pronouncing that he was a leader to all communities in Pakistan unlike of course what Modi’s India known for his extremist tendency stands for.

Bilalwal Bhutto followed the course. Pakistan’s young future candidate for the Prime minister position, in a politically self-serving step, celebrated the Hindu festivity Holi with the Hindu community in Sindh. Political expediency did indirectly lead leaders as Nawaz Sharif and Bilalwal to head out to the areas and speak for the rights of the minorities, and even to go as far as showing up on the occasion of Holi.

Remarkably, whenever, there are questions regarding the change in policy (education in particular) nobody pays any heed or is willing to take the plunge. However, what remain undone and unseen are the crucial changes required at the grass root level– there is something more required. The problem and concomitantly the solution lie elsewhere. Sindh is home to the highest proportion of out of school children with 51 percent children out of school. As per ministry of Education’s data, 2013-2014, 1.8 million children are out of school.

It is no rocket science that our primary level textbooks teach how to ‘other’ the minorities; the definition of a kafir is equivalent to that of a Hindu- the idol-worshippers it says. There have been personal accounts of Hindu students when they had to recite kalima, and read instances of desecration of worship places in historical accounts as ( History -Text Book publication:2013, National Book) tone marks the occasion of the conquest of Sindh by Mahmood Ghaznavi; Ghaznavi is hailed as the breaker of idols, and is quoted saying that when the worshippers offered huge wealth in exchange for not desecrating their idols, he replied: ‘’I am the breaker of idols and not the seller of idols.’’

Just imagine our fury, if Muslim children are made to read book excerpts where the Muslims are categorized as ‘infidels’ or are cited in such ‘public shaming postures’ in history. But unabashedly, we have generations who are being brought up with such implicitly inscribed ideologies that label those who believe in a different religion as bad.

Humanity’s greatest attributes are imbibed and taught through education at the basic level. Only an education system that charts tolerance and mutual respect for every human being can frame future generation’s mindset to promote harmonious and peaceful living. Otherwise, despite the claims of an emerging prosperous economy, the true vision of democracy will remain unrealized.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are her own.

About Author: Ayesha Ramzan is a lecturer in the department of Humanities, COMSATS (CIIT). She teaches Translation Studies and Communication Skills to graduate and undergrad students. Also, she prides herself in being called a literature geek, a staunch feminist with an unending passion for learning.

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