The manner in which the Hindu community is being treated in Sindh province is a matter of shame for all Pakistanis. In present-day Pakistan, Hindu women are under constant danger of being kidnapped and then converted to Islam, forcing the hapless woman to break all ties with their families and live the rest of their lives in an alien environment, married to a stranger. Such criminal incidents are unfortunately presented in Pakistan as a good deed under the garb of religion.
There is a shrine near Sukkur called the Dargah Bharchundi Sharif which plays a part in this criminal activity. Over the past three years, more than 150 hapless Hindu girls were converted to Islam at this shrine. The current Pir of Bharchundi Dargah is MPA Mian Abdul Khaliq.
Once a girl is kidnapped, the rest is a staged drama. While the family of the girl runs from pillar to post to get information about her whereabouts, the state machinery works in favour of the kidnappers. After much to and fro, an FIR is lodged but by that time, the Pir in Dargah Bharchundi has already issued a “conversion certificate” and married off the couple. So when the police finally “locates” the couple to present it to a court, all the legal formalities have been completed.
Under pressure from their captors and unable to go back to their homes for fear of social stigma, many of the kidnapped girls give statements to the effect that they ran away from their homes out of their own free will, giving the courts no option but to let go their captors. Such court proceedings are a tense affair where hundreds of supporters of religious parties throng the court to put pressure on both the wronged family as well as the justice system.
How long will we continue to play this farce? Shame on a former governor of Sindh who returned a unanimously passed bill that would have helped criminalise forced abductions for “reconsideration”.
The Sindh Assembly’s forced conversion bill, a private bill jointly moved by PPP and the PML-F lawmakers, was passed unanimously on November 24, 2016. It recommended that change of religion not be recognised until a person becomes 18 years old.
The rise in such cases has forced the Hindu community, particularly in Upper Sindh where they are more in numbers and are part of the middle class, to stop sending their girls to school. For no fault of their own, hundreds of these girls are not allowed to go out of their homes because their parents are afraid they will be kidnapped at will in their own country while their own government looks the other way, and the province’s governor is afraid of religious zealots.
This week, the Pakistan Hindu Council has appealed to the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the rise in kidnappings, forced conversions and forced marriages of underage Hindu girls to Muslim men.
The Pakistan Hindu Council discussed the issue after media reports emerged of the case of 16-year-old Ravita Meghwadh from Tharparkar whose family alleges she was abducted, forcibly converted and married off to a Muslim man “twice her age” in Umerkot.
Pakistan Hindu Council patron-in-chief and MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani said that the situation in the area from where Ravita was kidnapped is still very tense and the victim’s family is reportedly being forced to leave home.
Vankwani demanded that Ravita be rescued. Speaking of another forced conversion incident, Vankwani said 15-year-old Ganga was kidnapped by a man named Qasim Hajam and forced to convert and marry at gunpoint.
The architect of the bill, Nand Kumar, insists that the legislation is against forced conversion not conversion per se. No one can stop an adult converting from one religion to another of their own free will. In Pakistan, where conversion is one way, the Hindu community is afraid of the damage the forced conversions have caused in their community.
We are told that the chief of the Jamat-e-Islami, Maulana Sirajul Haq, phoned the co-chairperson of the PPP, Asif Zardari, to have the bill withdrawn. Let the record state that it was during the tenure of popularly elected prime ministers like Liaquat Ali Khan, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (and not that of military dictators) that some of the most regressive legislation and measures against our minorities have taken place.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2017.