The state of minorities in the country seemed bleaker than the state of the union on Thursday. Minority rights took up a major chunk of the National Assembly proceedings as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Dr Azra Fazl made startling revelations about how Hindu girls were being forcibly held in various madrassas in Sindh, only to be forced to marry into Islam upon their release.
The PPP MNA made the shocking revelations while discussing the case of Faryal Shah (Rinkle Kumari), who was allegedly abducted and later forced to marry and convert to Islam in Sindh, earlier this month. Speaking on the point of order, the PPP leader pleaded to fellow parliamentarians to enact legislation to protect minority rights and end forced conversions.
“Minorities are being forced to leave Pakistan — their daughters should enjoy same respect as ours do.”
Fazl, who is also the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, highlighted the issue in Parliament coincidently after the president himself received a sharply worded letter from California Congressman Brad Sherman regarding the Faryal Shah case. The congressman urged the president to ensure the safe return of Faryal to her family as reports had pointed out that she had been abducted with the help of a PPP lawmaker.
The PPP leader picked an opportune moment to take up the cause of minorities in Pakistan as a non-governmental organisation also revealed that over 568 FIRs for forced marriages had been lodged last year in 40 districts of Pakistan with a majority of the cases filed in Sindh. According to a report compiled by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), around 255 FIRs for assault or rape had been registered in 35 districts; another 173 for rape in 40 districts and 60 for offences related to marriage filed in nine districts.
Nafeesa Shah, another PPP MNA from Sindh, also endorsed her colleague’s push for minority rights, adding that the Parliament should introduce legislation on forced conversions. Non-Muslims were being forced to accept Islam as reported by the media, she observed.
“Protection of the minorities should be ensured as it is enshrined in the Constitution.”
PPP MNA Mian Abdul Haq also informed the House that over 15 to 20 Hindu girls were forced to marry Muslim men and later asked to embrace Islam.
“This kind of act is stigma on our [Muslims’] face,” Haq added.
MNA Justice Fakharun Nisa stressed on the implementation of laws to solve the issue of minorities, adding that minority rights had to be protected at all cost.
Majority of the lawmakers, including minority leaders Lal Chand and Mehish Kumar, expressed concerns over the kidnappings and forced conversions of Hindu girls.
Presenting a policy statement on floor of the House, minister of state for interfaith harmony and minorities affairs, Akram Masih Gill, said that the current government had taken unprecedented steps for the uplift and empowerment of minorities, including the fixation of a 5% quota in government jobs and the declaration of August 11 as ‘Minorities Day’ while Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shahnaz Wazir Ali said that under the 18th Amendment, four seats had been reserved for minorities in the Upper House.
Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Dr Araish Kumar contributed to the debate, informing the Parliament that minorities were being forced to take up Islamic studies in schools.
“Our students are being forced to read Islamiat in government schools,” Kumar said, adding “if they refuse to study Islamic studies, they are struck off by the school administration.”
Meanwhile, in protest against the rise in extortion and target killings in Karachi, Pakistan Peoples Party’s key coalition partner — Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) walked out of the National Assembly on Thursday.
The party also went as far as to announce that it may boycott the joint session of Parliament on Saturday, which is going to be addressed by President Asif Ali Zardari.
Speaking on the point of order, MQM Leader Haider Abbass Rizvi said his party may not attend the joint session of Parliament if PPP doesn’t curb extortion and street crime in Karachi.
Transgenders enrolled for elections
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Maula Bux Chandio informed the National Assembly on Thursday that a total number of 782 transgenders have been enrolled with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the upcoming general elections.
Transgenders, for the first time, will not only be able to exercise the rights to cast their votes but also be able to contest elections, Chandio told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2012.