01/23/2020, 19.12
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A young Hindu Pakistani’ lifetime struggle over his identity

by Kamran Chaudhry

Puran Ram suffered discrimination since childhood, which made him feel dirty from birth. In Sanskrit, his name means "ancient legends and popular lore", but his classmates mocked him for it sounding like porn. One schoolmate left school "because he refused to study with me.” Others brought their own glasses to avoid drinking with him.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Puran Ram, 21, is a young Hindu man in Pakistan. For him, living with his identity in a Muslim-majority country has been struggle, starting with his name.

"When I was in grade 7, my classmates associated my name with 'porn'. Eventually I stopped explaining that it is a Sanskrit word that stands for 'ancient legends and popular lore,” he told AsiaNews.

Ram and 60 other Hindus lived in 118 DB, a Muslim-majority village near Bahawalpur. In 2016 he moved to Lahore in search of a better future. Yesterday he shared his story at a seminar dedicated to Interfaith Policy.

The Punjab government organised the meeting as part of its ‘Harmonious, Tolerant and Safe Punjab" campaign, which was launched on 11 January by Ejaz Alam Augustine, Punjab Minister of Human Rights and Minorities Affairs and Interfaith Harmon, in cooperation with the Lahore Youth Development Foundation (YDF).

"We invited religious leaders, representatives of civil society, students, academics, who were asked to present proposals and suggestions to be incorporated into the policy,” said YDF executive director Shahid Rehmat.

In his address, Puran Ram noted that "when he was in grade 9, he switched schools after classmates accused him of using a steel chain of a water tank.

“My mother forbade me to study the Islamic religion, a compulsory subject. She was worried that I would convert to Islam.”

"I was skipping the hour of religion and studying ethics in the library. This was tough because there were no teachers of alternative subjects for non-Muslims.”

The challenges “continued in college. I simply introduced myself as a non-Muslim. My religious identity raised problems. Many associated me with India, a rival nation. Others invited me to embrace Islam.

“A fellow classmate told me that his elders usually burnt burn utensils ‘stained’ by the shadow of a passing Hindu.”

So “I cut short all talk about religion. Silence was my best protection. Eventually that classmate left college because he refused to study with me. Others carried their own glasses for drinking.”

According to Ram, “a new policy could improve the situation of minorities". In fact, Christians too constantly report discriminatory treatment in access to education and jobs.

The problem of girls and young women abducted and forcibly converted to Islam is particularly acute. According to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, at least a thousand young Christian and Hindu women suffered this fate in Sindh Province alone in 2018.

What is more, Hindu families “are forced to celebrate religious holidays at home. We are afraid of spraying the coloured paint on others during Holi, the festival of colours.

“Sometimes I feel like we haven't been clean from birth, no matter how good we try to be. Even the police ask us for a bribe of up to 35,000 rupees (US$ 225) to be allowed to celebrate the annual festival of Rama Pir (a Hindu holy man) in our village.”

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