Deepak Datta

Date: 8/15/2000


Great initiative to start this site. It will be a great place to know about the truth about partition and the people who were most affected. Wherever possible, the source of information should be mentioned to give a stamp of authority on the info provided on the web site. You could also have a link/archive of relevant news articles. There also needs to be a section about the Condition of Hindus who are left over in Pakistan. Example news items from the "Indian Express".

Shyam Sharma turns Peter Joseph, but still doesn't feel safe in Lahore

BHAVNA VIJ ------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------- LAHORE, MAY 2: Name: Peter Joseph. Father's name: Shyam Sunder Sharma. Children: Monica and John. No, it is not some Anglo-Indian family living in Lahore's Kashmiri Gate. Peter Joseph's name till December 6, 1992, was Surya Prakash Sharma. He changed it when his brother Nand Kishore and cousin Ram Narain were killed in Lahore in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

``I did not convert to Christianity. I just changed my name and it saved my life,'' he says, sitting in his small house in a lane in Kashmiri Gate. He refuses to be photographed. ``I'm very superstitious. It is like challenging fate,'' he says, holding his three-year-old daughter Monica close to him. He did not have the courage of giving Hindu names to his children, and then changed his wife Meera's name to Mariam.

``I saw my brothers being killed in front of me. Many people in this area, mostly Hindus, have adopted Christian names to protect themselves,'' he adds. There is not even a single temple left in entire Lahore.

There was one Jain temple near Lakshmi chowk and another big one at Shalmi Chowk near Anarkali bazaar but both of them were burnt down after the Babri Masjid demolition. Some smaller ones in Krishna Nagar and Shyam Nagar in Chubhurjhi area were also destroyed, recall the 100-odd Hindus, now mostly living in Kashmiri Gate and Andhroon Bhati Gate.

``We are scared of even putting an idol of Ramchandraji or Krishanji in our houses. Most Hindus have converted to Christianity but we still offer our prayers to Hindu deities,'' says Frank (real name Harish Chandra). Most of the people refer to these Hindus-Christians as Balmikis in the area. Though Thapar Street, Bhatia Street, Bahamant Street and Sehgal Street remain, there is hardly any Hindu there. ``There used to be thousands of Hindus living in Lahore. But after December 6 (1992), most ran away to either Karachi or Kota in Peshawar. There are very few left now,'' says Septuagenarian Ram Pal, who has dared to retain his original name. ``This was the name given to me by my mother and I will be known by the same till I die,'' he says.

Though Christians too complain of ``problems and harassment,'' they are relatively better off. ``There are almost one lakh Christians in Lahore but they don't really like to mingle much with the majority. We prefer to stay within our community,'' says Francis Louis, a science teacher in Don Bosco School in Lahore.

As if living as a minority in Pakistan is not bad enough, he says, teaching is even worse. Though Don Bosco is a Christian-run school, 70 per cent of the students are Muslims.

``There was a big furore in the school when I tried teaching the students about reproduction. The students went and complained to their parents who came and protested to the principal. I was almost thrown out of the school,'' he says. Louis had to apologise to the parents and assure them that he won't teach them that subject in future.

``Now I just read what is in the book and cloak it in harmless and often meaningless language,'' he says.

Thomas D'Souza, who organises AIDS awareness programmes in schools and colleges, has to face hostility and ire every day. ``But we have to do our job. My assistant Franklin was beaten up by some students in Lahore University two days ago and has vowed to give up. I am trying to convince him but he is too scared,'' he adds.

The handful of Sikhs in Lahore are limited to the Dera Baba Gurdwara near Lahore Fort. ``There are three other Gurdwaras in Lahore but this is the only functional one,'' explains Harpal Singh, a kar sevak in the gurdwara which houses Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Samadhi. ``Here, there are two dozen-odd Sikhs. We do the ``paath'' and read the Gurbani every day even if there is nobody to listen. We will keep this Gurdwara alive,'' he adds. ------------------- Copyright 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.