Forcible conversion of Hindu girls and institutionalized discriminatory practices in Pakistan
Source: New York Times

By TNV Desk –

Forcible conversion of Hindu girls and institutionalized discriminatory practices in Pakistan
Source: New York Times

Hindus in Pakistan continue to suffer persecution through misuse of blasphemy laws and forcible conversions. However, a recent local court’s order in one such case could become a landmark judgement in this context.

Sufferings of Hindus

In a 2017 report on “ Forced conversion of minority girls and women in Pakistan” prepared jointly by World Sindhi Congress (WSC) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the consideration of the 3rd Universal Periodic Review of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan during the 28th Session, there are serious concerns related to minorities in Pakistan. The report says:

“As intolerance against the religious minorities are growing in Pakistan, so does the practice of forced conversions. According to Amarnath Motumal, the former vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) , 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted every month and converted to Islam in Pakistan.

The incidence of reported cases of non-Muslim girls being forced to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam due to their marriage has noticeably increased. After their forcible conversion, the girls are often prohibited from contacting their families. Those who manage to go back to their homes are considered traitors of the faith, which implies persecution and threats to their lives.”

The report further said, “Minorities face lack of proper space in education, jobs and community life. And often become the victim of conservative Muslim groups who influence local power structures in order to perpetuate and institutionalize discriminatory practices against non-Muslim communities, while misogyny and rigid patriarchy affect women from minorities even further than others, hindering their access to education and participation in the job market.

Religious Institutions play a central role in maintaining the status quo, avoiding the creation of a specific legal framework for forced conversions and constraining the action of police officers and judges involved once a case is reported. Well-known religious institutions which support forced conversions of young Hindu girls in Sindh are Bharchundi Sharif, Sarhandi Pir and Bharchundi Pirs, all reportedly backed by Pakistan People’s Party.”

On the apathy of religious institution and administration it said, “Most of the religious institutions do not question the nature of the conversion, and information provided by the abductor – often false – is usually accepted. Statements compiled by the police often not factual, mainly when there’s involvement of influential members of the community. In some cases, police officers even refuse registering the FIR, rendering the girls’ families with little recourse against the assailants. In cases where a police report is filed, the courts’ practice has typically been to not decide custody matters in favour of the girl’s family, even when the girls are 12 or 13 years old.”

Throughout the whole process of pressing charges and testifying, the girl or woman remains in custody of the perpetrator of the forced conversion, which facilitates a testimony in favour of the perpetrator as a result of constant pressure and fear of violent retaliation. Many families choose not to report cases against influential abusers due to death threats. According to United States Institute of Peace, the number of Hindu families migrating from Sindh to India has increased in the last years. These families – 50 per month, as stated by the Pakistan Hindu Council – flee in order to escape persecution of all kinds, including forced conversions.

Dawn Report

According to DAWN’s report “Against their will” in a recent case of forced inter-religious marriage, “The case of Reena Meghwar has highlighted yet again the reprehensible practice of forced conversions in the country.

It rarely happens in Pakistan, The Dawn report said, “When a local court in Badin, Sindh, allowed the victim to leave her ‘husband’ and reunite with her family. This was Reena’s third appearance in court since February 2021. She retracted her earlier two statements about converting to Islam and wanting to live with her ‘husband’, saying that her previous stance was on account of the threat to her family. The court not only ordered her release but also instructed the police to register new cases against her ‘husband’.”

On the plight of these poor girls, the report said, “Unfortunately, Reena’s ordeal is not uncommon. Her case is nevertheless significant because a local court demonstrated its writ without bowing to influential quarters that are often found supporting the perpetrators.

Moreover, in a large number of such cases, the physical and emotional duress of the victims remains in the background, and does not become part of the court record.”

It further explained, “A similar case occurred last year when a 13-year-old Christian girl from Karachi was allowed to live with her so-called husband by the Sindh High Court on the basis of spurious documents, and the girl’s statement that she was 18 years of age and had married of her own free will. The high court too later reversed its decision and put the teenager in protective custody when new evidence emerged.”

The report concludes that, “Estimates indicate that some 1,000 girls from minority communities mostly in Sindh are forcibly converted to Islam every year in the country. Most of them are also under the legal marriageable age, yet the authorities are hesitant to take action as the perpetrators often have connections in high circles. Implementation of child marriage laws must be ensured to curtail at least one aspect of forced conversions. It is also time for the Sindh Assembly to push back against regressive elements who had taken objection to a bill to deter forced conversions and succeeded in stopping its passage.”