KARACHI: The Hindu community in the Daharki taluka of Sindh's Ghotki district staged a sit-in on Thursday to protest the kidnapping of two underage girls.
Following the incident, a video snippet went viral on social media in which the two girls claimed that they had converted to Islam. "No one has forced us, we have embraced Islam at will," the two maintained.
Hailing from a scheduled caste, Hindu community leaders alleged that two underage sisters had been abducted by people from the Kohbar and Malik tribes on the eve of Holi.
"It was not free will and the girls were in fact kidnapped and forcibly converted," said Hindu community leader Mukhi Shiv Menghwar.
Two girls allegedly kidnapped in Sindh's Ghotki district
The FIR, number 76/2019, of the incident was registered in Daharki Police Station on behalf of the victims' brother, Shaman Das, son of Hari Das Meghwar.
The FIR includes sections 365-B [kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel for marriage], 395 [punishment for dacoity], 452 [house trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint] and 506-B [punishment for criminal intimidation].
Details of the incident
According to the complainant's statement in FIR, some time ago, he had a brief altercation with Barkat Malik and Huzoor Ali Kobhar, who used to stand outside his home. The two had been upset with him for asking them to go away.
On Wednesday, Das claimed that he was at home in Village Hafiz Suleman along with his family members when six persons, armed with pistols, entered their house. He identified three of them as Safdar Ali, Barkat Malik and Ahmed Shah. Among them, the latter was a resident of the same village as Das. The three other men were unknown to the family, said Das.
The complainant said that the six men took the family members hostage on gunpoint. At one point, Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali caught both their sisters, 13-year-old R* and 15-year-old RA* and dragged them outside the house. Meanwhile, Ahmed Shah and his three unidentified accomplices rummaged through the cupboards to find valuables. According to the FIR, the accused stole 4 Tola of gold and Rs75,000 in cash.
While this was going on, the hue and cry raised by the family members alerted their paternal cousin, Ramesh Meghwar, who lived next door to them. When he rushed to their house to inquire what was going on, he saw the accused and recognised three of them. The accused, however, threatened to kill him if he dared follow them.
According to Das, Safdar Ali, Barkat Ali and Ahmed Shah drove away with his sisters in a white Toyota Corolla, while the three unidentified men took off on their motorcycles.
In the aftermath of the incident, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA Nand Kumar Goklani, who had initially moved a bill against forced conversions, urged the government to get the law passed immediately. "We demand the government to take up my bill and get it passed without any delay".
In 2016, the Sindh Assembly had passed a bill against forced conversions, following numerous complaints that people, especially children, belonging to non-Muslim communities, were being forced to convert to Islam. However, the situation took an unpleasant turn when many religious parties took to the streets against the proposed law and announced a movement against it.
Succumbing to the mounting pressure, the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) - which had distributed sweets while calling the passing of the bill a 'landmark achievement' - surrendered before the Jamaat-e-Islami when its chief, Sirajul Haq, called PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. Minutes after his call, the PPP-led government announced making amendments to the law, conveying a message to the then governor, Justice (retd) Saeeduzaman Siddiqui, not to ratify the bill.
Ever since, the bill has been gathering dust in the Assembly. "In most cases, Hindu girls, especially minors, are brainwashed and in most of the cases kidnapped," said Gokhlani.
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Meanwhile, the Ghotki SSP submitted a report to the Sindh Police chief IGP Kaleem Imam, saying that the two girls had stated in a recorded video that neither had anyone abducted them nor were they held hostage. The SSP quoted the girls as saying in the video that they had embraced Islam of their own free will.
On the other hand, DSP Izhar Lahori said that they had arrested one of the accused persons, while the police were conducting raids to arrest the others. He assured the community members that the girls would be recovered in 24 hours.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2019.