KARACHI: Over two years after the first attempt to criminalise forced conversions in Sindh, a revised draft of the law has been finalised and is expected to be tabled in the Sindh Assembly secretariat soon. The latest version of the 'Protection of Minorities Act, 2019' will be submitted by the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) MPA Nand Kumar Goklani.
Second time lucky?
The first time around, the Sindh Assembly had passed a bill against forced conversions in November 2016, 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.
JI chief Sirajul Haq and the Council of Islamic Ideology had expressed dismay over a particular clause in the said law, which stated that "minor children" could not covert to any religion. Religious parties referred to Hazrat Ali (RA), who had accepted Islam in his childhood.
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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. The governor had referred the draft back to the Assembly, suggesting the lawmakers to revisit the law. Ever since, many forced conversion cases have been reported in Sindh with dozens of Hindus girls specially minors accepting Islam.
The revised version
"In this revised bill, we have tried to address the concerns of religious parties and have finalised a law which is necessary in this critical time," Goklani told The Express Tribune, adding that he would try to submit the Bill in the Assembly secretariat today (Friday).
"No religion allows people to forcibly covert people," he said, adding that some elements were taking advantage of the issue because of the absence of a law.
"All political parties in the Assembly and civil society organisations have assured their support," said Goklani. "We have deleted the controversial clauses. I hope the PPP government, which claims to be the champion of minority rights, will also support me," he hoped.
Content of the law
The preamble of the Bill, available with The Express Tribune, states, "It is expedient to make provisions of protection to provide the right of freedom of religion and prevent forced conversions."
The law has suggested rigorous imprisonment for anyone convicted of attempting to force another person to change their religion. "Whoever by force, coercion, intimidation, incitement, martial incentive, misrepresentation, fraud or any other manner commits offence of conversion of a child shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to a fine." It will be cognisable, non-bailable and a non-compoundable offence.
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Course of action
The law states that after an incident comes to light, the victim shall immediately be taken to the nearest shelter home of a service provider or a child protection institute and the accused shall be taken to the nearest police station. "A police officer or any person given such authority under the law upon receiving information of a case of forced conversion will take into custody the victim and produce them before the court within twenty-four hours," states one of the clauses of the bill. The court shall then pass an order to take the victim to the nearest shelter home or child protection institute, it adds.
A victim may be allowed by the court to meet their parents, guardian and any other person deemed fit. According to the proposed law, the case of forced conversion shall be disposed of by the court within a period of ninety days.
It further adds that in a forced conversion case, the accused will be booked and charged under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013, wrongful confinement under Chapter XVI of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), rape under Sections 375 and 376 of the PPC, kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel for marriage under Section 365B of the PPC and kidnapping or abducting from lawful guardianship under Section 361 of the PPC.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2019.
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