At the time of the establishment of Pakistan, the non-Muslim population of West Pakistan was about 24.6 per cent
Since the educational reforms a decade ago, everyone hears about the first president of the Constituent Assembly and the first law and labour minister of Pakistan, Jogendra Nath Mandal. Mandal’s existence is always taken as the critical proof that Pakistan was conceived as a pluralistic state and his patronage by the Quaid-e-Azam himself lends his figure credibility. However, very rarely do people ask: what actually happened to him, especially since he abruptly falls off the radar after that inaugural lauded mention.
Before we come to Mandal’s departure, let me give some statistics: at the time of the establishment of Pakistan, the non-Muslim population of West Pakistan was about 24.6 per cent, while non-Muslims formed about 30 per cent of East Bengal and Sylhet. When the assemblies for Pakistan were set up, 18 members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan were non-Muslim, out of a total of 69, meaning about 26 per cent. Even in the West Punjab assembly after Partition, around 10 members [10 per cent] were non-Muslims. Hence, when Pakistan was established not only were non-Muslims in substantial numbers, they were also reasonably well represented in the assemblies too. However, very soon conditions changed and the non-Muslim percentage decreased to less than five per cent in West Pakistan. And if conditions do not change, even this percentage will disappear.
Mandal survived in Pakistan till October 1950 and then moved to India. He left sorely disappointed and forlorn since he had been working with the Muslim League sine 1943, and had developed a good working relationship with the party. However, as soon as Pakistan was established, cracks began to appear. The very first issue was that of the inclusion of scheduled caste members in the cabinet of East Bengal. As argued by Mandal in his letter and verified by other sources, the cabinet of first Sir Khawaja Nizamuddin and then Nurul Amin kept delaying the appointment of a scheduled caste member to the provincial cabinet even after several pleas from the central minister, leaving Mandal feeling that his “outspokenness, vigilance and sincere efforts to safeguard the interests of the minorities of Pakistan, in general, and of the Scheduled Caste, in particular, were considered a matter of annoyance to the East Bengal Government”.
Mandal then narrated several incidents of attacks on Hindus in East Bengal which culminated in the riots in Dhaka itself in February 1950 where arson, loot and murder against Hindus were the order of the day. This incident led to an exodus of Hindus to India which even the Delhi Pact on minorities could not stem, he narrated. Noting how Hindus were being treated he wrote: “The boycott by the Muslims of Hindu lawyers, medical practitioners, shopkeepers, traders and merchants has compelled Hindus to migrate to West Bengal in search of their means of livelihood. Wholesale requisition of Hindu houses even without following the due process of law in many and non-payment of any rent whatsoever to the owners have compelled them to seek for Indian shelter. Payments of rent to Hindu landlords was stopped long before.” All these reasons, and more, led Mandal to conclude that the condition of Hindus in Pakistan was “not only unsatisfactory but absolutely hopeless and that the future completely dark and dismal”.
Mandal wrote his ominous letter in October 1950 and then left for India, leaving behind the minorities perhaps at God’s mercy. Most of the atrocities against Hindus that Mandal noted continue in even stronger form today. Every year, nearly 1,000 non-Muslim girls are abducted and forced to convert to Islam, non-Muslims are routinely discriminated against in jobs, and people do not even like to eat or drink with them. Only the other day an octogenarian Hindu man was beaten up in a village in Sindh for eating during Ramazan, even when for Muslims at his age and health, fasting is not prescribed.
For most people in Punjab, Hindus especially, are a breed they read about in books, since hardly any remain in the province, but in Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, we still find sizeable pockets of Hindus. Either we wake up soon and protect their rights or very soon they will vanish from the country, through forced conversions, rioting, or simply by moving to India, where now a special provision is being made for them due to their large numbers. It has been nearly 70 years since Partition, but it seems like we do not want to move on from it just yet.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2016.