The alleged forced conversion of Hindus is likely to top the agenda of the newly-constituted 26-member parliamentary committee when it meets in Islamabad in the first week of October.
The federal government has constituted the committee with the purpose to review the Hindu community’s perils and make recommendations for legislation, according to Senator Hemant Das of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). The committee is likely to table its draft recommendations when it meets next month, he revealed.
At the residence of Hindu Panchayat leader Jai Kumar Dhirani on Sunday, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah and other JUI-F leaders met with the community’s representatives and heard their concerns.
Senator Das said that he received a letter regarding the formation of the committee two days ago but was not sure on which particular day the committee would meet. According to him, the government has selected 26 members from the Senate and National Assembly to work on the draft legislation. “The forced conversion issue is going to be the most important one followed by marriage laws,” he revealed.
The manifestation of this growing concern of the community surfaced in the form of recent migrations to India. Hundreds of families reportedly left their centuries-old abodes in northern Sindh to settle in the neighbouring country. Besides the forced conversions of Hindu girls, extortion and kidnapping of Hindu businessmen also inflamed sentiments.
“We are not opposed to changing one’s religions,” said Dhirani. “But the converts should be given enough time to understand their new religion and there should be an official process of certifying a conversion.”
He suggested that a Hindu girl who is willing to convert to Islam should be properly oriented to the religion’s teachings for a month or two before the formal conversion.
Dr Dilip Doulatni asked the JUI-F senator to form a fact-finding committee on the subject of forced Hindu conversions to ascertain the truth. “While complaints regarding coercion during conversion are played down, the use of force is still very obvious,” Doulatni said, adding that the influence some armed tribal communities enjoy in northern Sindh is brought into play when a Muslim boy converts a Hindu girl for marriage.
However, the caretaker (Sajjada Nashin) of the Amrot Sharif shrine in Shikarpur, Syed Siraj Ahmed Shah Amroti, rejected Doultani’s claim. Amroti, who is also a JUI-F leader, said that Hindu girls were in fact being provided security during the initial days of their conversion. “We don’t allow a [Hindu] girl to recite the Kalima and become Muslim without repeatedly asking her for her conscious decision.”
Piqued by the Supreme Court’s judgment in Rinkle Kumari’s case, the community is also demanding that while the courts hear these cases, their girls should be kept in a shelter house which is under the supervision of the minority group.
The community’s representatives also lamented that the parliamentary committee has not made public its draft recommendations yet. Its three members, Senator Moula Bux Chandio, Senator Hari Ram Kishori Lal and MNA Land Chand Parwani, met the Hindu representatives in all parts of the province. The parliamentarians noted their concerns, complaints, demands and recommendations.
The committee had handed over its recommendations to President Asif Ali Zardari on September 4. However, Senator Das said that he is yet to see the findings of the committee. “Although I have been in contact with Senator Kishori Lal but I still haven’t received a copy of the findings so far.” He revealed that these recommendations are likely to be tabled at the meeting of the 26-member committee next month.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2012.