Ramesh Jaipal, Human Rights Activist in Pakistan

RAMESH_IN.By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: Five-year-old Ramesh Jaipal raced camels in the scorching deserts of Dubai.  Losing his balance meant breaking a few bones or even death. Pitiful living conditions added to his troubles but it would be five years before he was rescued by the United Nations and reunited with his family.

This child jockey, sent by his father to supplement the family income in a sport that exploits children, is today a fierce human rights activist in Pakistan. In a recent address in Houston, Ramesh, now 34, spoke of the atrocities faced by more than 6 million Hindus living in Pakistan. Statistics say that the number of Hindus living in Pakistan has dropped from 19% at the time of partition to just 3%. In addition, forced conversions, kidnapping of Hindu girls, denial of basic rights for Hindu women and adverse economic, educational and social conditions has held the community back. Appealing for help, he asked the gathering of Hindu leaders to support him in righting the wrongs with their “tan, man and dhan.”

Ramesh’s journey from a camel jockey to a human rights activist had its share of detours. After his rescue, he was enrolled in school but the challenges were no less. He had forgotten his own language, Marwadi and only knew Arabic. As a scheduled caste Hindu, he was prohibited from drinking from the same water cooler as the other children and studied textbooks that derided Hindu idol worship and distorted Hindu practices. These blatant prejudices led to an “inferiority complex” and by 8th grade, he dropped out of school.

However, the seeds of activism were sown.

Ramesh went to work in a video store, sold balloons and kites at crossroads, and cleaned sewers to earn money. A bright child, he passed his 10th grade privately and went on to complete his Diploma in Business Administration.

In 2005, he was appointed as Coordinator by the Applied Socio Economic Research Resources Center (ASR) for his district, Raheem Yar Khan. Here, he got his first taste of how socio-economic problems are rationally discussed and solved. Simultaneously, he continued his education and graduated with a Masters in Political Science followed by another Masters in Sociology and Rural Development. He footed his tuition by plying an auto rickshaw during the evenings.

In 2006, Ramesh started the Hare Rama Foundation and the Scheduled Caste Rights movement of Pakistan which fights for the rights of the underprivileged sections of society. The Foundation in partnership with Sewa-USA recently initiated several Skill Development programs for the youth in the area.

He notched a huge victory when the Government of Pakistan passed the first Hindu Marriage Bill in 2017. Ramesh says it took him 3 months to draft the bill but 10 years to get it passed. He is currently working on two other bills – increasing minority seats and an Anti-Force Conversion Bill.

In 2017, Ramesh was selected for the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program. He spent the first three months at the University of Davis, California honing his English speaking skills followed by 9 months at Washington College of Law studying Law and Human Rights. The one thing that impresses him most about the US is the freedom of speech and religion that its people enjoy.

In the recent elections in Pakistan, Ramesh pointed out that not a single Hindu was nominated from Punjab province. If Hindus, he despairs, are not represented by their own people, how can they ever progress? He routinely receives death threats for his work but this hasn’t deterred him. When asked why he does what he does, he simply says, “If I don’t raise my voice, who will.”