The Vanishing Hindus of Pakistan – a Demographic Study

The Hindu population has faced persecution in Pakistan ever since 1947, but it didn’t vanish – it came home.

WrittenBy:Anand Ranganathan
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What has Pakistan done to its Hindu population?

On January 6, 2015, in an NDTV debate, BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said (19:05): “When Pakistan was created there were 24% Hindus in Pakistan. Now there are less than 1% Hindus.”

Trivedi has got his numbers wrong – it was undivided Pakistan at the time of partition that had 24 per cent Hindus, not the modern-day Pakistan, that has 21,11,271 or 1.6 per cent Hindus; East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, has 9.5 per cent Hindus. Worryingly, he is also wrong on the conclusions he drew from his numbers – “What happened to the rest? Obviously they were converted.” But Mr Trivedi is not the exception.

Professor Saswati Sarkar, an academic based in the United States of America, has recently written two articles relating to Hindu persecution in the subcontinent and its lack of reportage in the media. Together, they provide a meticulously, detailed analysis of the subject and act as a valuable resource for researchers. Doubtless, Sarkar’s thesis is correct – Hindus have been, and still are, persecuted in many of the sub-continent’s countries.

With regard to Pakistan specifically, Sarkar writes: “When Pakistan was created in 1947, Hindus constituted about 15 per cent of the population of West Pakistan (current Pakistan); by 1998 it is about 1.6 per cent – the population has declined by about 90 per cent in about 50 years. This decimation is the outcome of sustained legal and social discrimination ever since the creation of Pakistan.”

For the above claim, Sarkar has sourced the data from the report, Hindus in South Asia & the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, 2013, by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). On page 74, the HAF report says: “At the time of Partition in 1947, the Hindu community in what is now Pakistan was approximately 15% of the population (the Western half of the country, not including Bangladesh, or the former East Pakistan). By 1998, it was only 1.6%.” For these numbers the HAF, in-turn, cites a Zee News blog titled, Being a Hindu in Pakistan. The Zee News blog, by Ritesh Srivastava, does not provide a reference for the 15% statistic.

Reading Sarkar’s articles and the HAF report, one may get the impression that – as Sarkar says so herself – the Hindu population of Pakistan has been decimated and that this decimation has happened over a period of 50 years because of – to use Sarkar’s words again – “sustained legal and social discrimination ever since the creation of Pakistan.”

It is this author’s contention that the above conclusion is erroneous and that decimation, one which led to a decrease in the Hindu population of Pakistan by 90 per cent, never took 50 years to materialise. Decimation did happen, but in the months preceding or subsequent to the date of the partition. In other words, the cataclysmic reduction of the Hindu population of Pakistan had taken not 50 years but, rather, half a decade.

To get a better understanding of what happened to the Hindu population of Pakistan, it is important to first consider which window to look at. HAF, Sudhanshu Trivedi, and Prof. Sarkar all use 1947 as the starting point. Table 1 shows why this could be misguided.

Table 1. Pakistan Census data. For 1931 and 1941, the figures are for West Pakistan in undivided India. For 1951 and 1961, the figures are for West Pakistan in undivided Pakistan. Data for 1971 could not be accessed.

* The 1998 Hindu population increases to 1.85% if SC population is added to the Hindu (jati) population.  

From a healthy 14 per cent in 1941 – a figure some analysts say had reached 16 per cent by 1947 – the Hindu population came down to just 1.3 per cent in 1951. The decimation took five years not 50. After 1951, the Hindu population has hovered around the same 1.5-2 per cent mark. It is this tiny population that has been subjected to hardships, conversions, and denial of human rights that Sarkar and others have written about. Most of the 16 per cent Hindus who were present in Pakistan at the time of the partition either escaped to India or, most tragically, succumbed to the genocide that accompanied partition.

In 1951, according to the Indian Census data, refugees from Pakistan constituted as much as 20 per cent of the total population of Indian Punjab. To be sure, a significant decrease in the Hindu population had occurred even before the partition. In 1881, there were 92,52,295 Hindus in Punjab, or 43.8 per cent of the population. By 1911, the Hindu population had come down to 87,73,621, or 36.3 per cent. During the same period, the Muslim population had risen from 1,16,62,434 to 1,22,75,477 and the Christian population from 33,699 to 199,751.  

Indeed, this decrease in the Hindu population was what triggered the Shuddhi Movement, or what one calls today as Ghar Wapsi. Between 1909 and 1912, Ghar Wapsi was carried out on lakhs of Muslims and Christians; 100,000 Doms of Gurdaspur, 30,000 Megs of Sialkot, and 1052 Muslim Rajputs were re-converted and brought back to the Hindu fold.  

Nothing, however, comes close to the drop in Hindu population in the aftermath of the partition. One may ask, does the vanishing of such a large human population have any parallel in modern history? The answer is yes, it does. On the Indian side.  

The partition of Punjab was devastating to the nation’s psyche, and an unprecedented genocidal event. A million died, many millions were displaced. Exactly how Punjab was to be divided was a closely guarded secret. On August 17, 1947, having celebrated the Independence Day parades of the two baby nations, Mountbatten unlocked his safe and removed the boundary maps. He must have sensed a great tragedy was about to unfold.  

The irascible Churchill had once famously gloated of how, after the Great War, he divided the Middle East with blind swishes of his fountain pen. Now it transpired that Radcliffe had done the same. Of the 29 districts of Punjab, 16 went to Pakistan, 13 to India. Gurdaspur came India’s way and Lahore, the jewel in India’s crown, was now Pakistan’s. Mayhem ensued.  

Punjab bore the brunt of the mass exodus. By August 14, 1947, an estimated 2 million Hindus and Sikhs had moved already to West Punjab, and an equally large number, 2.1 million Muslims, to East Punjab. Between September 18 and October 29, facing unimaginable hardships, an estimated 8,49,000 Hindus and Sikhs crossed over to India in 24-foot convoys. An equal number of Muslims went the other way – the 1941 Census put the number of Muslims in East Punjab at 5 million. No one, least of all Jinnah and Nehru, expected such mass migration to take place. Indeed, even as late as August 19, Nehru said: “We would not like to encourage mass migration of people across the new borders for this will involve tremendous misery.”  

The largest migration in human history involved more than misery; it involved a holocaust. Jinnah, once he had got what he wanted, was so shocked to witness first-hand the mayhem that he is supposed to have said, “Oh my God, what have I done?”   By 1950, almost 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs, and 6.5 million Muslims had exchanged places. Table 2 shows the Muslim population of Indian Punjab over a period of 70 years.

Table 2. Indian Census data of the Muslim population of Indian Punjab. The 1931 figure is for pre-independence Punjab, while the 1941, 1951, and 1961 figures are for undivided Indian Punjab.

It is clear. What had happened to the Hindus of Pakistan, also happened to the Muslims of Indian Punjab. The Muslim population came down from 32.3 per cent to 0.8 per cent, a drop as drastic if not more, than the Hindu drop one saw earlier. The Muslims of Punjab had vanished. It should be added, however, that this emptying out was an exception. There was hardly any population fluctuation, for example, in Uttar Pradesh during the partition. Table 3 shows the Muslim population of Uttar Pradesh over a period of 100 years:

Table 3. Indian Census data of the Muslim population of Uttar Pradesh18.  

The Muslim refugees from India were given a name – Mohajirs. The 1951 Census of Pakistan found there were 7 million Mohajirs residing in Pakistan, at that time roughly 20 per cent of the population. In 1951, an astonishing 48 per cent of the total urban population was Mohajir. Just how near-complete the population switch was, becomes clear when one explores the demographic changes of Indian Punjab.  

In 1941, there were 6,57,695 Muslims in Amritsar. By 1951, their number had dwindled to 4,585 – from 45.4 per cent of the population to a mere 0.3 per cent. Take, next, the case of Gurdaspur. According to the 1941 Census, there were 4,40,323 Muslims in Gurdaspur, or 25 per cent of the population of the district. By 1951, Muslim numbers had come down to 10,425. In 1971, the number of Muslims in Gurdaspur was 6,868, or 0.56 per cent of the population. Now if one were to read these decreases as HAF did for the Hindu population of Pakistan, one would phrase it thus: At the time of Partition in 1947, the Muslim community in what is now Gurdaspur was approximately 25 per cent of the population. By 1971 it was only 0.56 per cent.  

Although factually correct, the above statement is misleading and doesn’t tell the real story, which is that the Muslim population was “decimated” because of an overwhelming outflow around the time of partition itself. A truer picture emerges only when we compare the 1951 population numbers with those that were revealed during subsequent Census counts. This holds as much for the Muslim numbers for Indian Punjab as it does for the Hindu numbers for Pakistan.  

In this context, it is also worth pointing out that the HAF report contradicts its claim – albeit in a limited sense – when it says that “In the city of Karachi alone, the Hindu population decreased from 51 per cent in 1947 to only two per cent in 1951, while the Muslim population in the city went from 42% to 96% during that same period.” It further adds: “There are conflicting figures on the number of Hindus residing in Pakistan, and the government has not conducted a census since 1998. While many estimates place the figure at less than 2%, the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), one of the leading representative bodies for Hindus in the country, approximates that there are more than 70,00,000 Hindus, or 5.5% of the population.”  

On a closer inspection, the PHC does indeed provide a district-by-district analysis of Hindu numbers in Pakistan, but it does not cite the source of this information, which is strange considering it overshoots both, the Census estimate and Mr Trivedi, by more than three-fold.  

Irrefutably, thousands of Hindus – those who could not make it to safety or decided to stay back in Pakistan – were converted to Islam during partition, but it couldn’t possibly have been 90 per cent of the Hindu population – the numbers are just too large. Also, the Indian Census data of 1951 – that provides detailed figures for the huge influx of Hindus to Punjab – indicates otherwise. The evidence is clear: Without question the Hindu population has faced persecution in Pakistan ever since 1947, but it didn’t vanish – it came home.  

Oddly, what is more troubling than the Pakistan scenario is the one concerning Bangladesh, where one has witnessed a steady decline in the Hindu population. Indeed, one may even term it alarming. Table 4 shows the Hindu population of Bangladesh over the past 80 odd years.

Table 4. Census data for Hindus in Bangladesh. The 1931, 1941, 1951, and 1961 figures are for East Pakistan.

Coupled with the population decline – from 22 per cent in 1951 to 9.5 per cent now – is the unrelenting persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, as articulated by Sarkar in her articles and by many others, notably Amnesty International.

Nonetheless, it is also true that, because of the circumstances surrounding the intervening Liberation War of 1971, the East also had to bear the brunt of voluntary and forced mass migration of Hindus. Indeed, such migrations were routine in erstwhile East Pakistan even before the Liberation War. As Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, in her address to the United Nations on September 30th, 1963 said: “The government of Pakistan, ever since its creation, has followed a communal policy based on the pernicious two-nation theory. It is as a result of this policy that 2.25 million Hindus have been forced to flee East Pakistan during the period 1951 to 1961. This policy has a double advantage for Pakistan. In the first place, it helps Pakistan to get rid of its Hindu population from East Pakistan; the Hindus from West Pakistan having been already practically eliminated.”

Clearly, the battle lies elsewhere.



Hindus in Pakistan

Muslims in Indian Punjab

Hindus in Bangladesh


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