Thursday 22nd February 2024,
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Pakistan : Festival of colours or fear?

Pakistan : Festival of colours or fear?

Hindu school teacher gives her son an Arabic name to avoid persecution

KARACHI: Thirty-two year old school teacher, a Hindu widow Shanti Kumari named her second son Zafar when class fellows and friends of her elder son Prakash Kumar kept asking every time about Hindu gods and goddesses, they saw in Indian films.
“I never wanted my children to get segregated from their friends, so I simply gave him an Arabic name,” she said. Kumari is also not celebrating the colourful religious festival of Holi publicly, so that people in her neighbourhood do not find out about her religion. The festival of Holi, which is the festival of spring and is more cultural than religious will be celebrated on Tuesday (today) and Rangoli or the festival of colours, will fall on Wednesday.

She lives in an apartment building in Saddar town where residents belong to almost every religion; sect and ethnic background. Apartment buildings with mixed social groups are becoming popular, as people find it safer to live in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious set-up.

“I heard about many cases of blasphemy, and as a teacher, I know that religious education is a part of all educational institutes. I did not want to see my sons being discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs,” Kumari said.
In the times of rising religious extremism, the vulnerable communities have started adopting different ways for their survival. The behaviour is an indication of the general fear found in most minority groups.

In this regard, renowned psychiatrist Dr Lakesh Kumar Khatri said that such trends are not abnormal, and that all types of minority groups always remain in fear from the majority. “Adopting names that are in keeping with the majority, not celebrating festivals that can expose the real identity, all work as a defence mechanism against isolation,” said Dr Khatri.
Fears are also triggered by related past incidents. If the dominant group targets someone belonging to the minority on a certain matter, the rest of the people in that minority may start integrating more with the dominant group, in order to become invisible. This is to avoid isolation as well as reducing the chances of becoming a target, explained Dr Khatri.
Kumari is not alone. Shiva Ram, a liquor vender, plans to take his family to a small town in Sukkur, where his brother lives with his family.

“We are not afraid of anyone, but as you know if we celebrate Holi in our apartment then the colours will paint the floor and walls, and our residential union will ask us to pay for it. They ask for money even from those who spit paan in the corridors,” he said.

However, when a Muslim resident of the same apartment, Muhammad Rizwan Shaikh, was asked about why Hindus are not celebrating Holi, he asked a counter question, “are there Hindus living in our apartment?”
Another Muslim man requesting for anonymity, said that it is better if Hindus do not have mass celebrations, otherwise they too will ask to be provided with space and security. The city already has a lot of troubles to deal with more, he said.
Despite all these fears, several programmes are being made at the local temples, where Hindus will gather to celebrate the festival. “We have kept the celebrations within the temple boundaries, so that we may not throw colours on passersby,” said caretaker of Mata Temple in Doli Khata area. He also said that there are several temples where one can buy colours, sprays and other items that are essential for the festival and pooja.

The city is home to around 0.8 million Hindus, belonging to different ethnic communities, including Marathi, Gujarati, Sindhi, Marwari, Tamil, Sri Lankan and even Bengali.

Few of these Hindus live in historical Hindu-majority-colonies; most prefer to live in a mixed neighbourhood. There are pockets in old areas like Lyari, where Hindus still have freedom to celebrate their religion publicly.


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