Rahat John Austin, who describes himself on Twitter as “Lawyer, Author, Activist” has of late caught the eye of some sections of the Indian media with his social media posts on atrocities on Hindus in his home country of Pakistan. Austin had recently claimed that around 171 Hindus in Pakistan’s Sindh province had been converted to Islam on Sunday. The information he shared was picked up, and reported on by the Times Of India on Monday. According to the news report Rahat himself told TOI that the Hindu men, women and children were inculcated into the Muslim faith at a a mass ceremony “held at madarsa Ahsan-ul-Taleem, Sanghar in Sindh province of Pakistan.”
He claimed that “a former member of Islamic Ideology Council Noor Ahmad Tashar converted them to Islam.” However, according to the TOI report, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader and Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Kheal Das Kohistani, a Hindu, expressed his “ignorance about the incident”. The report stated that MNA and patron in chief of Pakistan Hindu Council Ramesh Kumar Vankwani did not pick the phone despite repeated attempts by the reporter. The news report quoted sources as confirming that all the Hindus, who were converted to Islam allegedly by “various allurements”, were from Bhil community, one of the most vulnerable and marginalised among the minority communities of Pakistan.
It is noteworthy that Bhils are a tribal community following animist traditions. In India they are considered Adivasis and designated as a Scheduled Tribe in many states.
Rahat Austin, who is active on twitter as @johnaustin47 has multiple posts on various attacks on Pakistani Hindus. His posts often find support in many Hindu users from India, as well as indian media that is aligned to the right wing ideology. His critics seem to be mainly from Pakistan, at first look. There is in fact a Reddit thread that has called him “a self-proclaimed rights activist” and stated that he called himself an “Indian born in Pakistan”. The thread aims at fact checking some of Austin’s tweets where he shared graphic photos of burnt bodies of three children and claimed that the victims killed were reportedly Hindu Pakistanis, who had been attacked allegedly by Muslims. It can be read here.
The fact checker claimed that while Austin’s tweet was retweeted thousands of times “by Hindutva accounts” and quoted in the Indian media, Pakistani newspapers had reported that the fire was due to a “a stove malfunction.” The report on the fire can be read here.
While Austin’s tweets and allegations are yet to be probed by Pakistan, or even responded to by any Indian authorities, it is true that religious tensions and divides continue to build up in the country. Recently one of the largest demonstrations against the Shias was reported. This demonstration, stated news reports, must be seen in the context of legislative changes made in Pakistan with respect to its blasphemy laws. According to a clause in that law, any one “disrespecting the companions of the prophet will also be deemed a blasphemer” and punished. According to the report, this clause directly “threatens one of the important Ashura rituals of Shia called the Tabarra in which they say not very kind things to some of the companions of the prophet”. Then there are certain Sunni organizations in Pakistan who have decreed the Shia to be kafir.
The contempt for Pakistani Hindus, in their home country is also visible. Following the Imran Khan led Pakistani government’s approval of the construction of a Krishna Temple in Islamabad, and its grant of Rs10 crore for the purpose to the Hindu Panchayat, an ultra religious section objected. According to them a “new temple cannot be built in Pakistan as it is an Islamic country and Pakistan aspires to emulate the Riyasat of Madina”. Jamia Ashrafia even issued a Fatwa declaring the construction of a Hindu temple in Pakistan haram, stated a news report adding that the Imran Khan government succumbed to the pressure, halted the construction, and referred the issue to the Ideological council. Ironically, the court refused to halt the construction on the ground that the Constitution grants religious rights to the religious minorities including Hindus and Imran Khan-led government’s approval of the construction of the temple was not against the Constitution, stated the news report. However, the pressure of religious bodies continued and brought the work to a halt.
It was an ideological debate that was raging in the country and both the supporters and opponents Social media vilification of Hindus in Pakistan continued. The most shocking was a video of a four-year-old boy telling Imran Khan off, and ‘threatening’ that if the temple was built in Islamabad, he would “kill each and every Hindu”. The young child’s father it seemed had tutored and encouraged this hate speech. Questions were raised about the Pakistan government’s stand on the protection of its minorities then too.
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