By Majda Shabbir in Pakistan
“Abdullah, Muhammad Hakeem, Noor Muhammad,” and then suddenly, the role call switches from names that are typically Muslim to those that are Hindu, “Raj Kumar, Laal Chand, Sunil.” It is here in Jacobabad Pakistan that, side by side, Hindus join Muslims in line at a second round of food distribution for those affected by the 2010 monsoon floods.
For the Red Cross Red Crescent, it doesn’t matter what religion or god they follow. Working in line with its seven fundamental principles, it is more important that those most vulnerable receive the aid they need.
“Impartiality is one of our seven fundamental principles,” explains Jaap Timmer, recovery coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Pakistan. “It means we help those who are suffering, regardless of their nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.”
In the Muslim-dominated country of 170 million, the Pakistan Hindu Council estimates 5.5 per cent, or more than nine million people, follow the Hindu faith. Most live in Sindh province where they make up more than 17 per cent of the population. It is here visitors will find pictures of Hindu gods on the walls of the mud houses, in communities where Hindus and Muslims mix without conflict.
Laal Chand and his wife Nazia prepare tea in their small straw-roof kitchen. “We were left with nothing after the floods and are thankful to the Red Crescent who supported us even though we are a minority here. It would cost us 10,000 rupees (97 Swiss francs) to purchase these goods from the market. This food will help us for at least a month,” Laal says while playing with his one-year-old daughter Anjali on a ‘charpoy’ (traditional bed). “But we still need help with our homes. They are too damaged and it is risky for us to continue living in them.”
His neighbour Shahzada is more fortunate. His house survived the monsoon floods, but all the food his family saved from the last harvest was lost. He hands his children some soap and towels to wash up while his wife Abida cooks ‘khichdi’ (lentils and rice) for the family, rocking one-year-old Manisha on her knee. “The flour, ghee and spices given to us by the Red Crescent are better than what we can get from the market,” she says. “But it will be good to be able to look after ourselves again, without relying on outside help. Things should get better in October when we can harvest again.”
Until then, Hindu followers like Shahzada, Abida, Laal and Nazia, together with their Muslim neighbours and friends, will continue to lean on each other for support.