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Pakistan’s Hindus Want Law to Ban, Penalise Forced Conversions

India Issues Official Note to Pakistan on Abduction, Forced Conversion of Hindu Girls

Monday 25 March 2019, by siawi3


Pakistan’s Hindus Want Law to Ban, Penalise Forced Conversions

When the family of two Hindu girls who were recently abducted and forced to convert approached the police, the first response they got was apathy.

File photo of a protest by Pakistani Hindus demanding their rights. Credit: Reuters


25.03.19 12 hours ago

Karachi, Sindh (Pakistan): When a Hindu family complained to the police about the kidnapping of their two minor daughters, the official response was apathy. It took a viral video clip of the mourning father – and subsequent outrage on social media – to force the Pakistan government to announce a probe into yet another case of forced conversion of girls from minority.

On the eve of Holi, Reena Meghwar (12) and Raveena Meghwar (14) were kidnapped from their home in Dahrki in Sindh’s Ghotki district. Another Hindu girl had also been reportedly abducted from Mirpukhas district.

The issue of forced conversion is not new in Pakistan. As documented in Bring Back Our Girls, the number of incidents has been rising because of religious extremism in northern Sindh. Rarely has any action been taken against the abductor, and the girls are usually not returned to their families.

Hundreds of similar cases raise a number of pertinent questions. Why do only minor Hindu and Christian girls ‘convert’? Why don’t aren’t they brought to the courts if they want to convert? Why are only religious leaders in shrines seen converting girls, especially Mian Mithoo who runs Bharchundi Dargah in Ghotki, Sindh?

The same questions can be asked about the kidnapping of the two girls from Ghotki.

No official interest until outrage on Twitter

The family registered a first information report stating that the girls were under age on March 20. However, there had been no public response from the Sindh police till the videos of the two girls being married by a cleric emerged on social media.

On March 21, the Sindh police posted on Twitter that the girls were saying they had left their homes of their own free will and converted to Islam voluntarily.

The police complaint by the family had clearly mentioned that the girls were under age. There are clear provisions under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act which prohibits child marriage, and the local police could have taken action against the accused and recovered the girls.

Instead, Sindh police’s tweets seemed to justify the ‘abduction’ by only mentioning the statements of the two girls. The perception is that the police deliberately delayed action, which allowed the girls to be moved outside the province to Rahimyar Khan, a city in Punjab.

On Saturday, a video ofReena and Raveena’s father sitting in protest at the local police station emerged, and immediately went viral on Twitter. “Oh – Nadir Shah – you can kill me. I will never tolerate this. My daughters have been abducted – I had patience,” he shouts.

Video here

After the clip of the grieving father was shared widely, a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, the ruling party in Sindh, said the case was being investigated. However, the Meghwar family has said they have not been contacted by anyone from the Sindh or Federal governments so far.

According to the girl’s brother, Shamon Meghwar, no politicians or influential members of the Pakistani Hindu community have contacted them till now. Lawyer Dilip Kumar said that the girls should be returned to the family as they are minors.

However, as per reports, the girls have sought protection from a court in Bahwalpur. They will likely appear before a court on Monday (March 25).

The case has also become entangled in the current tensions between Pakistan and India. Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj called for a report from the Indian high commission, which was objected to by Pakistan information minister Fawad Chaudhry.

A known issue

On Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called on the Sindh and Punjab governments to constitute a probe and recover the two sisters.

In 2017, the PPP-ruled Sindh government had brought a law against forced conversion, which was passed by the provincial assembly. But Sindh governor Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui returned the Bill for reconsideration after a phone call from the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sirajul Haq to PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari.

Also read | India Issues Official Note to Pakistan on Abduction, Forced Conversion of Hindu Girls

“Forced marriages are illegal and child marriages are unethical and unconstitutional marriages, no one can accept it. It must be stopped,” said Nafisa Shah, who is a member of the National Assembly from the Pakistan People’s Party.

She added that her party’s concern about forced conversation was the reason why it had passed the 2013 Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. She highlighted that as per Pakistan’s constitution, the age of consent for marriage for a woman is 16, but it was pegged at 18 in the Sindh Act.

Shah said that the Sindh government should follow the case of Reena and Raveena as per the law. “We firmly believe that the girls should be sent to their parents and our Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah should keenly follow the case,” she stated.

To a question on whether this case also could be a repeat of the Anjali Kumari case, who was not sent back to her family, she replied, “Finally – courts have to proactive. We cannot afford that girls are abducted and then another girl goes missing. This sends a negative message.”

The need for a law

After the latest case, the debate over the need for a specific law against forced conversion has been renewed.

“The time has come to bring legislation on forced conversion, because forced conversion is old issue,” said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council and a member of National Assembly.

“The state had brought the National Action Plan against terrorism to ban terror organisations. Therefore, a law should be brought to ban shrines that convert minor girls to Islam,” he said.

He urged the Sindh government to push the dormant legislation on forced conversion again, and pass it in the provincial assembly. The Federal government should also consider a similar law, he suggested. “Enough is enough,” he asserted.

Veengas is Karachi-based journalist.



India Issues Official Note to Pakistan on Abduction, Forced Conversion of Hindu Girls

India’s intervention came after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj called for a report from the Indian high commission.
India Issues Official Note to Pakistan on Abduction, Forced Conversion of Hindu Girls

Photo: A bride and groom sit together during a mass marriage ceremony held in Karachi January 2, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Athar Hussain/Files

The Wire Staff

25.03.19 12 hours ago

New Delhi: India has issued a note verbale to Pakistan on the alleged kidnapping and forced conversion of two minor Hindu girls, and called on Islamabad to ensure the protection of minorities.

India’s intervention came after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj called for a report from the Indian high commission through her Twitter account on Sunday morning.

Swaraj’s tweet led to a sharp reaction from Pakistan information minister Fawad Chaudhry on Twitter. He noted that it was an internal Pakistani issue and said that India should “act with same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian minorities”.

This led to another round of exchange on Twitter, with Swaraj stating that Fawad’s retort showed Pakistan’s “guilty conscience”.

A few hours after the Indian high commission in Pakistan sent a report to the headquarters, an official note was issued to Islamabad.

According to sources, India has asked that “suitable remedial action be taken by Pakistan government to protect and promote safety, security and welfare of its own citizens, especially from the minority communities”.

This is not the first time that Indian government has taken up the matter.

As per written answers by several government officials in parliament, India “has from time to time, taken up the matter with the Government of Pakistan and has conveyed the expectation that the latter will look after the safety, security, well-being and will protect freedom of its minority communities”.

In May 2012, the Manmohan Singh government had issued a demarche to Pakistan over India’s “serious concerns on the matter of abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls against their will to Muslim men in Pakistan”.

“It was conveyed that it is our expectation that the Government of Pakistan will look after the well being of its minority communities and discharge its responsibility in this regard,” then minister of state for external affairs E/ Ahamed stated in a written reply in Rajya Sabha in August 2012.

Also read | Bring Back Our Girls: Pakistan’s Hindus Struggle Against Forced Conversions

As per the 1950 pact signed by Indian Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart, both countries shall ensure “to the minorities throughout its territory, complete equality of citizenship, irrespective of religion, a full sense of security in respect of life, culture, property and personal honour, freedom of movement within each country and freedom of occupation, speech and worship, subject to law and morality”.

This agreement was signed in the backdrop of heightened suspicion and continuing violence against minorities post-Partition in both the newly independent countries.

In their 2014 manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised to grant citizenship to Hindu refugees from neighbouring countries. The NDA government had earlier drafted a Bill that would grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It triggered major protests in the northeast, including from NDA allies, against the Bill perceived as a back channel to settle Bangladeshi Hindus in the sensitive region.

Before a gruelling election campaign, the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha, but was not taken up in Rajya Sabha before parliament was adjourned sine die last month.

As per reports, the two sisters, Reena and Raveena, were abducted, forcefully converted and then married on March 20 from their village Hafiz Salman in Sindh. A police complaint was registered by the father and brother of the two sisters on the same day.

Another girl, Shania was also reportedly abducted from Mirpukhas district on the same day, but not much detail has been reported in this case.

Sindh is home to a significant Hindu community, especially in the districts of Mirpukhas, Tharparkar and Umerkot which are near the Indian border. Most of the Hindu population living in these rural districts are from ‘lower’ castes and often work as agricultural labourers. The richer members of the Pakistani Hindu community have largely shifted to Karachi and do not face as many incidents of forced conversion as their rural counterparts.

A few days later after the abduction, a video emerged on social media showing the girls, Reena and Veena, being married to two men. A cleric claims in the video that the sisters wanted to become Muslims out of their own volition.

On Sunday, Fawad Chaudhry announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab to investigate the reports related to the two minor girls and recover them.

Chaudhry added that the Pakistani prime minister also directed authorities to take “concrete steps” against such incidents of abduction and forced conversions. He asserted that Pakistani minorities represent the white colour in the national flag and “we love all our colours and the protection of our flag is our responsibility”.

The Pakistan Hindu Council, headed by a member of the National Assembly, Ramesh Vankwani, has called for a resolution in the next session to condemn the kidnapping of Hindu girls.

The draft resolution circulated by Vankwani also names religious leaders who have been supporting such incidents. “All of those who are preaching hate under the cover of religion must be handled like banned religious organisations,” the resolution states.