Human Rights in Sindh:
A Historic and Contemporary Perspective
A few years ago, I gave a presentation at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. I have converted it to an article below.
Sindh is an ancient country whose civilization stretches back to the earliest human settlements. The ancient Sindhi people embraced a peaceful way of life. Moenjodaro, a city that flourished in 2600 B.C., showed advanced city planning and well-developed arts, yet an absence of even basic military fortifications and weapons.
Based on accounts of scholars who accompanied Alexander during his invasion of Sindh, the Roman philosopher Strabo described the Sindhi belief that God the Supreme Creator incites no war. Sindh was invaded by the Arabs in 712 A.D., a brutal conquest that was followed by the massacre of 6,000 POWs and the transportation of 30,000 young men and women sent into slavery—enormous numbers considering the total population at the time. Thirty-six years later, an insurrection restored the independence of Sindh.
Sindh remained independent for centuries following but suffered a series of attacks and occupations by Afghan and Indian rulers. One of the most traumatic of these attacks occurred in 1718: an army sent by the Delhi-based Mughal ruler attacked Jhoke, Sindh where Sufi Shah Inayat had established a society based on egalitarian and secular principles. Following a ruling by the orthodox mullahs, conquering Mughal troops executed over 16,000 Sindhi Sufis for heresy and apostasy. The site of mass graves of these martyrs, called Ganju, remains one of the most hallowed places of pilgrimage for Sindhis.
In 1843, the British colonized Sindh after an unprovoked attack on the sovereign country—an act that was widely criticized by many British leaders at the time. In 1936, the British held the first ever elections in Sindh; the election produced a staunchly secular legislature. In a subsequent election, gerrymandering and separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims, besides local political factors, allowed the sectarian Muslim League to win a bare majority in the Sindh Assembly—although the League received only about 40% of the popular vote.
In 1946, given only the choice of joining either
The Sindhi Diaspora
I am a Sindhi
A homeless stray
Wandering place to place
Sindhi Poet and Writer
Sindhis remained peaceful as the rest of
The massacre and official expropriation of homes led to a mass exodus of Hindu Sindhis from urban centers, resulting in a Diaspora that now numbers over 2.5 million. Today, exiled Hindu Sindhis are denied the Right of Return. They are even denied visas to visit their holiest shrines—as these shrines are located in what is now
The Rights of Minorities
Of the approximately 30 million Sindhis living in Sindh today, approximately 3 million are Hindus and suffer particularly under
The law and practices discriminate against minorities in other ways. In civil and criminal trials, the testimony of a witness belonging to a religious minority is deemed inherently untrustworthy. A non-Muslim man may not marry a Muslim woman. By law, members of the religious minorities cannot hold executive positions such as Mayor, Governor or President.
Hindu Sindhis have been made particularly insecure. Kidnapping for ransom of middle-class Sindhis is frequent in the province; the Pakistani police act particularly unconcerned about the treatment of Hindu victims. In January 2004, five people were kidnapped near Shahdatkot; within days, the police secured the release of four of the victims, but not of Vijay Kumar, the one Hindu among them.
In fact, the police have been accused of being active participants in the epidemic of kidnappings and looting in Sindh: in January 2004, in the
The last census systematically undercounted the number of Sindhis. The census forms in Sindhi were simply printed in insufficient quantities so data could not be collected in many remote villages. In addition, Hindu Sindhis were intimidated by Pakistani soldiers who accompanied the census takers in Sindh. On the first day of the census, soldiers shot dead a 50 year-old Hindu Sindhi father in front of his teenage son. The electoral power of minorities has been further marginalized through gerrymandering and a system of separate electorates that is still in use in local elections.
In the eastern desert region of Sindh which borders
Islamic Studies has been made a compulsory subject for Muslims in all government and private schools. The officially mandated textbooks preach a fundamentalist and militant ideology, contravening the indigenous universalist Sufi beliefs of the Sindhis. The promotion of hatred and intolerance is not confined to textbooks for religious studies; it extends to even the language and history textbooks that are required in compulsory classes. In particular, the textbooks stereotype Hindus and Jews as ‘conniving’ and ‘scheming.’
Hindu and Christian places of worship have been frequently ransacked by Islamic fundamentalists in different parts of
The Rights of Women
In traditional Sindhi culture and folklore, women are celebrated for their independent and adventurous spirit. Many Sindhi folktales are legends about heroines who defied family or social custom to choose their own marriage partners.
Pakistan has imposed harsh measures against women, for example, by denying their right to choose marriage partners and condoning so-called honor killings where relatives may kill an unrelated man and woman on the slightest suspicion of adultery—sometimes for so much as socializing, or for marrying outside the community. A historic account by Richard Burton in the 19th century contrasts the rarity of such killings in Sindh with their frequency in
A woman who is raped must produce at least four Muslim eye-witnesses in court to prove her case. If she is impregnated by a rapist but cannot prove it, she is charged with the offence of adultery, punishable by death. It is estimated that the majority of women in prison today are charged with adultery. The net result of these oppressive conditions is to discourage the participation of women in civic life.
A woman may inherit only half as much as a man. A woman cannot be a judge in a Sharia court—courts that adjudicate cases of marriage, divorce, inheritance, blasphemy, apostasy, and other matters. Women are also barred from the military—the institution that exercises the ultimate authority in
Freedom of the Press
Sindhi newspapers are generally supportive of democratic and secular values.
Sindhi is an ancient language with a rich literary tradition. In the 19th century, the British granted official status to the Sindhi language, requiring that bureaucrats posted in Sindh learn the language.
The Right to Livelihood
The once mighty
Water no longer flows to the sea; as a consequence, the mangrove forests have experienced a 90% decline—from 2400 square kilometers to 200 square kilometers. Without protection from the mangrove forests, seawater has encroached—inundating 1.2 million acres of agricultural land and uprooting residents of 159 villages. The once plentiful seafood catch has been drastically reduced. The net result is that throughout Sindh, poverty levels, malnutrition and disease now match those in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Right to Development
A majority of Sindhi girls and almost half of Sindhi boys do not receive even basic schooling and remain illiterate. Yet
Sindhis do not support the militant policies of the government and their participation in the military is virtually nil. Sindhis would like to see education, health and development expenditures dramatically increased. Moreover, Sindhis would like to see a fair allocation of these resources to Sindhi-speaking areas.
The Right to Self-Determination
Sindhis’ demands for their fundamental human rights have been met with harsh crackdowns. Student protestors were arrested in large numbers after indiscriminate shooting of peaceful demonstrators in March 1968. Sedition charges are a common tool against protestors. The Sindhi national poet, Shaikh Ayaz (d. 1999) was charged with treason—a crime punishable by death—for advocating peace with
In the 1980s, hundreds of Sindhis campaigning for democracy were massacred by the military. Oppressive methods are still in use—Abdul Haq Mirani, a peaceful protestor, is among those killed by the Pakistani police in recent years.
Sindhis are suffering from a military dictatorship bent on using their resources to promote a militant Islamist agenda—for example, by developing nuclear weapons and exporting them to other Muslim countries, and by facilitating the training of terrorists in madrasahs. The repressive nature of the Pakistani regime, and its powerful ethnic base in a fanatic fundamentalist population, make it nearly impossible for Sindhis to engage in a civic dialog within
The Sindhis have an inalienable right to self-determination. The diabolical nature of the military force they face can be seen by the fact that Pakistani army stands accused of massacring two million and raping hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis, and was the prime supporter of the fanatic Taliban in
In April 2004, Dr. Agha attended the 60th Session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission as a delegate of Interfaith International. This article incorporates the gist of his presentation during the UNHRC session in