The issue of forced conversions of Hindu women to Islam, after being abducted and made to marry Muslim men, has been raised vociferously by leaders of the Hindu community. But now, it seems that the whole operation of forced conversions is taking place in a far more organised manner than had been previously thought.
The PPP MNA Dr Azra Fazl, who is also President Asif Ali Zardari’s sister, has said that Hindu women are being kept in madarssas in Sindh and then forced to wed Muslim men. She stated this is what had happened in the case of Faryal Shah, a Hindu girl whose conversion has created much controversy in Sindh. Dr Fazl’s words come just as California Congressman Brad Sherman’s letter on the case reached President Zardari, demanding that Faryal be returned to her family.
Several other members of the National Assembly backed Dr Fazl, including members of the minority communities. The attention directed towards the matter by the legislature is important. What is happening to minority community members — especially women, who are doubly vulnerable, needs to be taken up at the national level. Clerics and madrassa leaders, acting against Hindus must be penalised under the law. There must also be a wider effort to alter mindsets, which lead to the harassment of the community and the increasing cases of abduction in the first place. As a result of these and the kidnappings for ransom seen in Balochistan, thousands of Hindus have fled their homes and moved across the border into India.
It is shameful that we cannot keep our minority communities safe. The long delay and the equally long silence from mainstream society on the issue have worsened matters. It is hard to say what will happen next. The tide of hatred and intolerance that has swept across our country is difficult to reverse. But some effort to do so must be made, so that, in time, we can return to a situation in which members of different religious communities are able to coexist.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.