The Sindh Assembly failed to debate on forced conversions for the third time in recent months. On Tuesday, the provincial assembly set aside its entire agenda, after a ruckus broke out in the house as lawmakers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan protested the coronavirus-restrictions in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The resolution, moved by Grand Democratic Alliance MPA Nand Kumar Goklani, came in the backdrop of at least five forced conversion cases reported in recent weeks. It called for a law to be passed against the “ill practice” of forced conversions - an issue that has been on the agenda at least thrice in the past couple of months but has yet to be taken up.
This resolution was on agenda last private members day on May 25 too, but was deferred.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Goklani said he moved the resolution on Tuesday because his revised bill against forced conversions, tabled before the assembly, has been pending since 2019. “I realise that today there was protest and the agenda could not be discussed. But my resolution and bill against forced conversion are always turned down.”
Goklani was the first lawmaker in Sindh Assembly, who moved a bill against forced conversions in 2016. “The practice of converting minor Hindu girls is on the rise but no one, neither from the provincial nor the federal governments, takes notice of it,” said Goklani.
According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, at least five to six forced conversions have been carried out in Sindh in the past few weeks.
The council’s spokesperson recounted the incident of 13-year-old girl, Kavita Bai, who was allegedly abducted and forcibly converted to Islam by notorious cleric Mian Mithoo. She was later married off to her abductor. Besides, Pooja Meghwhar from Hyderabad district, Aarti and Reena Meghwar are recent examples, the spokesperson told The Express Tribune.
Passed unanimously then withdrawn
Goklani’s bill, titled, The Criminal Law (protection of minorities), was first passed unanimously by the provincial assembly in November 2016. But the then Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government asked the then governor, retired Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, not to ratify it following backlash by religious quarters.
Siddiqui had objected over a clause of the bill that denounced the conversion of minor girls asking that when Hazrat Ali could convert to Islam at a young age why couldn’t Hindu girls.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq had called on PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and made similar remarks.
He had asked for the provincial government to immediately withdraw the bill. Backlash had also come from leaders of the JUI-Fazal (JIU-F) and the Council of Islamic Ideology over the bill.
The MQM-P, which had supported the law and called it a historic achievement had also taken a U-turn with its senior leader, Syed Sardar Ahmed, saying that the law was passed in haste.
On the table
Taking the objections under consideration, Goklani drafted another bill under the same name and submitted it before the assembly secretariat in 2019.
But the amended bill is yet to be re-assessed and discussed in assembly.
“Dozens of times, I have approached PPP ministers and the speaker [of the house] to consider it. If needed, we can improve the draft [as well]. But the ruling party [PPP] gives a lukewarm response,” said Goklani.
When contacted, Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said that minority concerns are of priority and legislation against forced conversions will be done soon. “[PPP Chairperson] Bilawal has given clear instructions to expedite this issue. We are working on it and the bill against this menace will be finalised in coming days.”
Decrying Covid curbs
Meanwhile, the house witnessed uproar on Tuesday with MQM-P lawmakers protesting coronavirus-mandated restrictions in the province, especially in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The speaker adjourned the session within 23 minutes of it beginning. Opposition lawmakers, led by the MQM-P, wanted to move a resolution on lockdowns in the two urban centres of the province. When the speaker did not permit the resolution, they stood up and began protesting.
“The PPP government has made people’s lives miserable in the name of lockdowns,” said MQM-P lawmaker Kanwar Naveed Jameel.
For 10 minutes the opposition lawmakers shouted slogans and protested before the speaker adjourned the session till Friday.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2021.