By Karamatullah K Ghori
14th April 2019
With saner voices in both India and
Pakistan pleading for cooler heads to hog the narrative there was, instead,
another dose of fury was injected in their eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
The scene for this round of war of nerves
was set by the forced conversion of two Hindu girls last week in Ghotki, a town
in Pakistan’s Sindh, neighbouring India’s Rajasthan. The father of the girls
reported to the police that his girls, both minors, aged 14 and 16, were abducted
by some men in his town, forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to
According to Sindh’s Child Marriages
Restraint Act, the minimum age for girls to marry is 18.
But the plot thickened and became more
complicated when the girls appeared before a magistrate and asserted that they
had converted to Islam of their own free will and married men of their liking.
However, before anyone could attempt to
sort things out and sift chaff from the grain, the vigilantes of Pakistan’s
vibrant social media had waded into the scandal, kicking off a furious debate
in defence of the girls as well as their alleged abductors.
PM Imran Khan, too, got a foot in the
snowballing media duel and asked Sindh’s governor and its chief minister to get
to the bottom of the scandal. Imran had also come down hard on Sindh government
earlier, in February, when there was an arson attack on a Hindu temple in
Khairpur, in which copies of the Bhagavad Gita and the Guru Grant Sahib were
burnt to ashes.
Sindh has the largest number of Hindus in
Pakistan, and their representatives also sit in the National Assembly. The
districts of Umarkot and Tharparkar have the heaviest concentration of Hindus,
with the latter having as many as 50 per cent of them in its population.
However, these Hindu-heavy areas of Sindh
have also long been in the sights of religious fanatics and zealots sworn to
converting Pakistan’s minorities to Islam by fair or foul means. These freaks
think it’s their ordained mission to bring the ‘blighted and ignorant’
non-Muslims under the light of Islam.
But in their paranoid frenzy to spread the
blessings of Islam, these hotheads forget that the Prophet of Islam had
strictly forbidden forced conversion of people of other faiths. In one of his
earliest acts after migrating to Medina from his native Mecca, the Prophet had
issued a written guarantee to the minorities—Christians and Jews alike—living
under his remit that their religious rights, as well as their places of
worship, would be inviolate and off-limits to Muslims. His written assurance,
in original, can still be seen in the archives of St. Catherine’s monastery in
But the fanatic brigades of Sindh have
clearly no respect for the word of their own Prophet and seem hell-bent on
inflicting their archaic sense of religion and faith on the Hindu minority. The
abduction of Hindu girls, even minors as in this case, their conversion under
duress and marriage to whoever has been a favoured modus operandi with them.
They are powerful and well-heeled, so much
so that the Sindh government seems pitiful and powerless against their antics.
In November 2016, the Sindh Assembly had overwhelmingly passed a Bill against
forced conversion. But that legislation invited a swift backlash from the
zealot brigade; it remains mothballed and hasn’t, to date, been signed into
The choice of Umarkot as a bountiful
hunting ground for the fanatical proselytisers has a historic irony. The
greatest of Mughals, Akbar the Great, whose secular credentials were
impeccable, was born in Umarkot, while his father, Emperor Humayun, was in
flight from the challenge of Sher Shah Suri. Akbar, an epitome of a ruler
wedded to religious and social harmony, spent the early years of his childhood
at Umarkot. He must be turning in his grave at such wanton plunder and rape of
his shining legacy of peaceful and harmonious coexistence among all faiths.
The Imran government, conscious of the past
and persistent failures of the Sindh administration to safeguard the religious
and fundamental rights of the minorities under its watch, has shifted the case
of the two minor girls to Islamabad. The Islamabad High Court has remanded the
two girls to a sanctuary for women and constituted a medical board to determine
the ages of the two girls. The case remains sub-judice.
That Imran Khan took early notice of the
violation of the girls’ fundamental rights gives a clue to his concern not to
let fanatics and zealots dominate the social narrative in his ‘New Pakistan.’
The Pakistani Constitution obligates the government to guarantee the safety and
security of all minorities and their places of worship.
Common sense says there should be no
ambiguity in either India or Pakistan that protection of minorities is a
universal obligation of governance. But the barbs traded between India’s
external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, and Pakistani Information Minister
Fawad Chaudhry on the heels of the scandal did nothing to fortify their basic
obligation to their respective minorities.
Politicians on either side ought to understand
that silence on issues of such sensitivity as faith is more than golden. It’s a
virtue not to be trifled with.