“There is no compulsion in religion”, is a well known saying that most of us who live in the land of the pure often tend to forget. The point is very clear but lost on many of us: that while religion encourages conversions, it in no way tolerates coercion. Yet, that is what the Hindu community in Pakistan says is happening to it, especially to many young Hindu girls, who are kidnapped, forcibly converted and then married off to Muslim men. This reality should be kept in mind when considering the Supreme Court’s decision on April 18 to let three women — Rinkle Kumari, Dr Lata and Asha Kumari — choose if they wanted to return to their Hindu families or stay with their Muslim husbands. In all cases, their families and the Pakistan Hindu Council had alleged that the women had been abducted and coerced into marrying. All three women decided to stay with their husbands, although it is entirely possible that they did so out of fear after being threatened, leaving the Supreme Court with no choice but to let them go with the men. Besides, in the case of Ms Kumari, at the last hearing, it was reported in several newspapers that upon seeing her mother, she expressed a desire to return to her parents’ home but was instead sent to a girls’ home to make up her mind.
There can be no denying that Hindus are not treated equally under the law. Shamefully, Hindu marriages are not registered in the country and a bill to recognise their marriages has been stalled in parliament for unexplained reasons. This, in fact, makes it all the more easier for such Hindu women to be abducted and forced to remarry after conversion. It becomes very hard for the courts to intervene when no law exists to protect Hindu women in the first place. As the situation stands right now, in cases of suspected forced marriage the matter usually comes down to the word of one party against the other and, as we well know, the implied threat of force — almost always from the majority towards the minority — also comes into play.
It is now time to ask ourselves if we want to be a tolerant, pluralistic country that can treat all its citizens equally or if we prefer to cater to the whims of the majority while denying the humanity of the minority.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2012.