The National Commission for Minorities has recommended that the government enact a law under which new converts belonging to non-Muslim communities should be stopped from marrying until at least six months of their conversion.
The recommendation from the newly-formed representative body of minorities comes at a time of mushrooming allegations of forced conversions, mainly of Hindu girls in Sindh. Minorities claim that, in most of the cases of conversions followed by marriage, girls belonging to non-Muslim communities are victims of rape and other human rights violations – but the crime is covered under the pretext of marriage with a Muslim man.
The commission, during its second meeting on Tuesday, also recommended that, instead of a police official, a judicial magistrate should record the statements of converts independently.
Currently, after a complaint from the victim’s family, police registers an FIR under Article 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and a police officer records the statement which is subsequently produced before the court by the police in the form of a charge-sheet.
However, minorities claim that the statements recorded by an investigating police officer are mostly never based on facts.
There is, however, a provision in Article 164 of the CrPC, under which a judicial magistrate can record the statement but the law is not implemented on the pretext that, since the magistrate is a judicial officer in the case, he/she should not be recording statements of the cases he has to ultimately decide.
Headed by the minister for national harmony, the newly-formed national commission is a multi-party forum that includes two MNAs each from Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities, one representative each from Sikh and Parsi communities, as well as the secretaries of ministries of interior, law and justice, national harmony and capital administration development division.
National Harmony Minister Akram Masih Gill told The Express Tribune that the commission has also sought recommendations from the Council of Islamic Ideology on its new proposal.
“There are some genuine cases where these girls covert to Islam. In some cases, there is a love affair… but in most cases the option of marriage is misused by the influential to hide their crime. There are many reported cases where these girls were kept in illegal custody and repeatedly raped,” the minister said.
The commission has also asked the government that the office of the chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board should be held by a non-Muslim. The Evacuee Trust Property Board is a body that deals with properties of non-Muslims who migrated to India after Partition. Most of these properties have already been encroached upon, illegally occupied or allotted to influential people illegally.
The minister also underscored the need to work on the social education of the masses and enforcement of laws in their “true spirit”.
Sources said a draft bill that stipulated certain issues of minorities has recently been rejected by the ministry of law and justice, claiming that most of the laws are already in place in the statuary books but are not implemented.
According to an official statement issued after the meeting, the commission has decided to restore the Minority Cultural Awards for which funds have already been provided. Fourteen people from minority communities would be given these awards along with a cash prize of Rs50,000 each in different categories.
It was also decided that a sub-commission would be formed under the leadership of Ramesh Singh Arorah to work for the Gurdwara in Saidpur village in collaboration with the Capital Development Authority.
The meeting also decided to send a draft of the Christian and Hindu Marriage Act to religious minority parliamentarians and other stakeholders for their recommendations to finalise the bill before presenting it in parliament.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2012.