BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA: World Hindu Council of America – Pakistan Hindu Empowerment Forum, SEWA International, Global Heritage Foundation and India Awareness Foundation presented a talk about Hindu communities in Pakistan by Ramesh Jaipal, Founder/Director of Harey Rama Foundation, Pakistan on May 11, 2013 at the Impact Center in Global Mall.
Based out of Rahim-Yar-Khan (Saraiki area), Harey Rama Foundation (HRF), a private non-profit organization has been working for the rights of the lower most strata of the Hindu society in Pakistan. Jaipal narrated his first hand experience of working to alleviate the plight of the five million Hindu minorities in Pakistan. Jaipal tells us that he is in the US on a State Department affiliated tour as a Human Rights International Visitor for Leadership Program to learn more about American democratic institutions and how to bring about change in Pakistan. He says that visitors such as he, considered to be leaders in their respective nations, are invited from various other countries to this program.
“It is a very good opportunity for neglected class people to learn about how to bring equal standard of living to all” he says, adding that the invite to the program was a result of recognition of his work by the Human Rights Commission. He is traveling throughout the US in his mission to spread awareness.
If forming a Harey Rama Foundation for betterment of the lower caste Hindus in Pakistan seems like a feat, there is much more to Jaipal’s juddered journey. His turmoil began early on in life when he was sold as a ‘child camel jockey’ to a Sheikh (rich Arabic person) for money when he was six year old, owing to dire economic conditions faced by his family. It is said that thousands of children (as young as two years old) are trafficked from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan for use as ‘camel jockeys’ in the Persian Gulf States’ camel racing industry. These children are tied to camel backs. During camel race, these children cry their heart out of fear of falling from the camel back. The children’s cries result in the camels running even faster (60-65/kmh or 40mph). It is said that falling off the camels seriously injures many child camel jockeys.
Jaipal mostly speaks in Hindi, but has a good hold of English language too. “I went to school only after returning home, in 1995 where all my classmates were youngsters, short and here I was, the old, tall one” he says. He went on to complete school and graduation. In 2006, a group of friends got together and discussed overall humanitarian issues in the society, such as poverty, natural disasters, violence against women, minorities issues and scheduled caste (dalit) issues, conflicts, land rights and situation of peace and interfaith harmony, health, education and infrastructure. The solutions of problems associated with common man and initiatives for sustainable development and enhancing quality of life were formally institutionalized as HRF. HRF aims ‘to become self-sustaining, resourceful, disciplined and a specialized training and support institution with a view to build capacities of community organizations.” Jaipal says.
In his interview with NRI Pulse and his presentation, Jaipal notes that Hindus in Pakistan are divided as upper caste and lower caste. He opines that the lower caste Hindus are the ones generally subject to discrimination. He divides issues faced by lower caste Hindus into social, educational, economic, religious, and political. Jaipal identifies discrimination in all fields, particularly against women, as the primary issue, particularly in social and educational fronts. Social issues he says include no law for Hindu marriage registration, lack of awareness, no rights to land, lack of awareness regarding birth registration and CNIC. Issues in education are lack of scholarships and facing of conversion problems, he says.
Jaipal says 75% income is below $2, with most working for landlords. Bonded labor, lack of financial assistance from Government during festivals are some of the economic issues. Religious issues include forced conversions, occupation of temples and graveyard, lack of religious knowledge, and conversion to Christianity. No representation in political parties/Punjab Assembly and political leaders that belong to upper caste and their lack of empathy for other castes, he says, are the main political issues.
Core components of HRF, as Jaipal describes them include, social mobilization, micro credit & enterprises development, human & intuitional development , health, education, community physical infrastructure, emergency rescue & relief response, child labor, response on human trafficking, natural response management (NRM), and promotion of interfaith and peace that also uplifts the marginalized community, especially the scheduled caste.
Achievements of HRF, according to him, include preparation of legal draft “Pakistani Hindu Marriage Bill” which is under process in the Parliament, success in demand for four seats for minorities in Senate, along with SCRM assisted by ActionAid convincing authorities to process the case for further allocation of seven seats in Provincial Assemblies and four seats in the National Assembly, allocation of Residential Certificates to more than 3000 Hindu families in Punjab together with over 3 million other deserving families.
Achievements of HRF and Scheduled Caste Rights Movement (SCRM) (also established by Jaipal), according to him, include Preparation of Legal draft “Pakistani Hindu Marriage Bill” which is under process in the Parliament, Success in demand for 4 seats for minorities in Senate, Convincing authorities to process the case for further allocation of 7 seats in Provincial Assemblies and 4 Seats in the National Assembly in collaboration with SCRM assisted by ActionAid, Allocation of Residential Certificates to more than 3000 Hindu Families in Punjab together with over 3 Million other deserving families, Raising awareness about Pakistani Scheduled Caste (Dalit) community in electronic and print media with SCRM, Providing a platform for peace and Interfaith Harmony for all religions communities for holding various activities such as dialogues and workshops with SCRM, Distribution of warm clothes and other missing facilities to over 1600 families during flood devastations by HRF and SCRM, Community sessions, dialogue forums and meetings by SCRM to sensitize Scheduled Caste (Dalit) in terms of their legal rights, education, organization and awareness, Voice for Scheduled Caste (Dalit) in Pakistan at national electronic and print media and power corridors and at an international level and the Presidential award for Human Rights in 2010 for a Dalit member as a result of SCRM vocal stand.
“I fell off the camel and hurt my head, you can see the scar here,” Jaipal points to his head and says with an eerily even tone, as if he were speaking about a fall at a soccer game. Blessed with inherent resilience and indomitable spirit, Ramesh Jaipal has treaded a rather excruciating path with no visible signs of his anguish. Robert Schuller said it well “Tough times never last, but tough people do”.