Friday, December 26, 2008

Baloch Hindus threaten poll boycott and emigration

Baloch Hindus threaten poll boycott and emigration

* Protest abduction of four Hindus in one week
* Hindu leader says threats not religiously motivated

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Hindus, the largest religious minority in Balochistan,
threatened to boycott the February elections or "migrate to safer
places" if the government did not protect them.

The warning came after four Hindus were kidnapped in two incidents
within a week.

"We feel extremely insecure," said Hindu leader Basant Lal Gulshan, a
former member of Balochistan Assembly. "There is widespread concern
among the Hindus of Balochistan. The government has taken no action so
far to recover the kidnapped Hindus."

The Sindh-Balochistan Hindu Panchayaat threatened to boycott the
February elections but Gulshan and other leaders opposed the measure.

Four men with weapons abducted a 13-year-old boy Ravi Kumar from his
father Herpal Das' rice mill on January 30 in Dera Allah Yar area of
Naseerabad district. The boy was a student in Quetta and had returned
home for a vacation.

Two days earlier, three Hindus were kidnapped from a passenger van in
Jaffarabad district. One of them, Kundan Das, is a doctor, and the
others, Dilip Kumar and Parkash Lal, are businessmen.

"If our men are not recovered, we will convene a grand conference of
Hindus living across Balochistan," said Hari Chand, the former
secretary general of the Hindu Panchayat. "We will consider all
options of protest." But he said any protest by the Hindus would be
legal and peaceful.

Kishor Kumar, the vice president of Balochistan Chamber of Commerce
and Industry, said Hindus had been peacefully living in Balochistan
for centuries and had made significant contributions to local
business. But he said they now felt insecure because of "repeated
attacks on the community". He said the government had not addressed
their problems.

"The government must protect Hindus," Basant Lal Gulshan said.
"Otherwise, at a time when the international observes are coming to
Pakistan to monitor the general elections, such incidents will send a
very negative message about the state of minority rights [in
Pakistan]," he added.

Not religiously motivated: "We do not suspect anyone," he said, but
added that the violence against Hindus was not religiously motivated.
"We believe it is the local outlaws," he said. "They want us to leave
our homes as some people did in 1992 after the demolition of the
Babari Masjid."

"If we are denied protection, we will be compelled to migrate to
somewhere safer," he said.

He said he had told former Balochistan chief minister Jam Muhammad
Yousaf about the abductions and Yousaf had taken up the issue with the
Balochistan Police inspector general (IG). "But the IG never contacted
us," he said. "No one from the provincial government has met us to say
a word of sympathy." He made an appeal to President Pervez Musharraf
to intervene and take notice of "the discrimination" and the threat to
their lives and property.


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