The subject of this panel discussion was the plight of Hindu minorities living in Islamic regions. The panelists were Ms. Sudha Jagannathan, a Hindu American active in grassroots advocacy on human rights for Hindus, and Tahir Aslam Gora, a Pakistan-born progressive Muslim operating the TAG TV channel in Canada.
This article attempts to summarize the wide-ranging discussion that took place during this panel. A complete video recording of the discussion is available alongside.
Sudha Jagannathan systematically delved into the conditions prevailing in every nation that borders India to highlight the challenges Hindus face. She began by setting the current situation in a historical context dialing back 100 years to the Mappila Riots of 1921. She said the event in pre-independent Kerala, where the Muslim community – the Mappillas – had rampaged against Hindu killing and maiming, had proven to be a template for every attack that has followed over the years.
She said Afghanistan was a perfect example of what happens in the absence of collective action. In a once Hindu and later Buddhist country, the Hindu population is zero, barring the one Hindu priest who has chosen to stay back, at risk to his life, so the lamp in the temple at Kandahar could be lit every day.
In the 1950s, Hindus constituted 30% of the population in Bangladesh; that number now is 8.5%, Jagannathan stated and noted the dwindling number is no accident. She pointed out that 2021 marked 50 years of independence for the country – freedom gained with the massacre of almost three million Hindus, assault of over 200,000 women, destruction of temples, forcible conversions, and being hounded across the border. Post-independence, the trend continues, said Jagannathan citing the worst large-scale mob violence against the community in the country’s history in October 2021. As devotees partook in ‘prasad’ at the temple after Durga Puja, they were brutally attacked based on a rumor of blasphemy. CCTV footage later showed a Muslim, Iqbal Husain, planting a Koran on the lap of Hanumanji. When a picture of the Koran with Hanumanji was posted on social media, crazed mobs perpetrated unthinkable violence and desecrated the temple. For the first few days, she said, no one said anything of the horror. Then the Hindu community slowly demanded the world say something, and statements of condemnation followed. But no one named the perpetrators – Muslim mobs. Neither did they name the victims – the Hindu community. In Jagannathan’s mind being nameless is the actual victimization of Hindus.
She again reported dismal numbers from Pakistan: In 1947, the Hindu population stood at 12.9%, now a shocking 1.6%. She declared that the forced abductions of Hindu girls in Pakistan were a state-sanctioned pogrom done to reduce that number further. Women are the keepers of Dharma, and when a girl is removed from a community, that community starts to disintegrate from the inside, she said. On average, 1000 Hindu and Christian girls were abducted annually from public spaces, assaulted, forcibly converted, married to much older men, or sold as slaves. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has said they were being sold to China. Asked Jagannathan: Is Pakistan in the pimping business?
She personalized the terror of the situation with three specific cases:
- Rinkle Kumari was abducted at gunpoint by Muslim men and married off to the one who assaulted her. The Hindu family went to court, seeking her return. In court, the girl cried, and the Sindh cleric who oversees the pogrom simply slapped her. No one knows what has happened to her.
- Kavita Bai was abducted, forcibly converted by a cleric in Sindh, and made to marry her rapist. She was 13 years old.
- Reena Meghwar went through the same circumstances as the others, but the court returned her to her family this time. They now live in the constant fear of violent retribution, she said.
[Editor: For more details on the abduction of Hindu and Christian girls in Pakistan, please read this report by the UK parliament]
Jagannathan also briefly trained her gaze on Kashmir. There have been waves of Hindus fleeing the region, the last being 30 years ago when there was an exodus of over 350,000 forced to leave the land of their ancestors and become refugees.
She said Hindus were inexplicably being called aggressors even with so much proof that they were abuse victims. The only way to set the record straight is to voice the truth. She agreed this led to a rising Hinduphobia in the West but saw no recourse for justice. Learning and garnering facts was important, she said. She also cautioned against getting discouraged if the results were not immediate. The long-term need is building bridges, expanding the coalition and not stopping discussing atrocities against Hindus. She said many US lawmakers are taken aback when they hear about the horrors inflicted on Hindus.
Her closing message for the Hindus was very simple: Learn, act, stay focused, stay engaged.
Tahir Gora opened with the observation that the abysmal plight of Hindus was not just in countries neighboring India but around the world and, ironically, within India itself.
He explored the reasons for Hindu ethnocide within Islam. He said that before the advent of Islam, Arabs, and Hindus had amicable relations. Around 610 CE, there was a significant conversion to Islam by Arabs, but many Muslims also fled the persecution in their lands and arrived in India. In those early days, some Hindus too embraced Islam, and in 629 CE, the first mosque in India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, was built by the Chera dynasty in Kerala. There were several attacks on India, but the Arab-Islamic invasions of India were attempted in 636 CE, and the naval charge on the coast of Southern Gujarat was all repelled. Mohammed bin Qasim claimed victory in 712 CE for the Umayyads in Sindh. However, it settled nothing as battles between the Caliphate and the Hindu kingdoms continued for hundreds of years. The Arabs were beaten back in South and North India by the Pratihara and Chalukyas dynasties and other smaller kingdoms. The Arab defeats led to an end of their eastward expansion and the overthrow of Arab rulers in Sindh itself. In its place, the so-called indigenous Muslim Rajput dynasties were established. Gora said history shows that Arabic invaders did not have an easy passage into India. Still, they did loot its wealth and worked diligently to destroy an ancient civilization as much as possible.
Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century, he said, several religions were practiced in ancient Afghanistan, Iran, and greater Pakistan, including Zoroastrianism, Surya worship, Paganism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. But later, converts from these practices and descendants of Muslim rulers, who were also essentially Hindu converts, claimed foreignness and carried the flag of Islam, inflicting barbarism in India.
After this period, the British arrived and introduced the two-nation theory, which was celebrated by Muslim pockets in India. Gora asserted that the source of Hindu ethnocide is no longer Arabia, Persia, or Turkistan, but it is the Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The irony was that the Muslims who backed this were mainly Muslims of Hindu ancestry. So, the source of Hindu ethnocide in Islam comes from within India itself, adding that this holds even today.
The opposition parties in India were responsible for facilitating Hindu ethnocide. And this, they had somehow managed to do, directly or indirectly, through the facade of secularism or by playing the victim. With India’s independence, Gora said that more Muslims had opted to stay in India rather than move to Pakistan as the Muslim elite hoped to run the country.
Gora spoke of the bleak situation of Hindus in the countries neighboring India, with hate against Hindus being taught early in Pakistan’s schools. He gave a litany of human rights abuses. In 2011, religious intolerance was at its height in Pakistan, with hundreds of minorities, women, journalists, and liberals being killed by Islamic extremists while the government remained silent. In 2014, NGOs estimated that around 1,000 girls from minority groups were forcefully converted to Islam every year. In 2016, in Sindh, which is home to the most significant number of Hindus in Pakistan, a bill was passed outlawing forced conversions, but the government never ratified it. In 2019, a parliamentary committee was formed to prevent forced conversions, but nothing has come of it. During the pandemic, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concern when reports emerged that food rations were being denied to minorities in the coastal area of Karachi, with aid being reserved only for Muslims. A recent survey has revealed that of 428 Hindu temples in Pakistan, only 20 survive today, and they are either in a state of neglect or have been converted for other uses. Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, elected from Sindh, told the National Assembly of Pakistan that around 500 Hindus migrate from Pakistan to India every year.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s Islamic groups were learning from their Pakistani brethren. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have no place for Hindus, Gora said. The plight of Hindus results from ideology-driven Islamists who harbor no respect for others. Gora admitted that there are verses in the Quran that speak of killing non-Muslims, but they were written in the context of the seventh-century conflicts. In fact, all Abrahamic religious texts have made similarly hostile statements. While the Christians and Jewish people have softened their offensive scriptural content over time, Muslims have not. Only a mass reform movement could make those teachings irrelevant.
Gora opined that attention should shift from the plight of Hindus in these Islamic nations as there is very little hope of correcting the situation there. He called instead for the focus to be on Kashmir. Hindus, he said, must assert their position there at any cost.
Slowly and gradually, India must move towards a Hindu Rashtra. There will be a lot of international pressure and propaganda against such a move. However, Hindu organizations across the globe, especially in the United States, need to pave the path for it to become a reality. Gora felt that India, under Prime Minister Modi, was doing well, being recognized as a vital player in world affairs on the world stage. The unending political chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan meant they were not a threat, freeing India to move ahead. Within India, Islamists must be handled strategically, he said.
According to Gora, negative propaganda is the biggest threat to India and Hindus. A Western-style media outlet was needed to rectify this situation. The history of persecution documented massacres of Hindus, and the current risks they face must be told through a Western lens. A Hindu Rashtra cannot be asserted unless there is a counter-narrative from a Hindu perspective.
Sudha Jagannathan is a national team member of the CHINGARI (Coalition for Hindu Girls Abducted and their Rights); she is active with grassroots advocacy programs, addressing Hindu human rights in the US and abroad. She works to raise awareness amongst lawmakers, community leaders, and youth groups of violations against Hindus.
Tahir Aslam Gora is a broadcaster, editor, publisher, author, and activist. A progressive, he speaks openly of the dangers of political Islam and wants the Islamic values of the seventh century instead to be reclaimed. His opinions forced him to flee his country of birth, Pakistan, and seek asylum in Canada. He has been awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his services in Canada. The Founder & CEO of TAG TV is a member and founder of several groups that support freedom of expression and progressive ideals.