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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 2 May 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Forced Conversions in the Land of the Pure



By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

May 02, 2014

Although forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls are constantly on the rise in Sindh and Punjab, these cases are gradually and slowly gripping the other two remaining provinces: Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Forced conversions of Hindu girls in the land of the pure commenced in the 1970s or, to be more specific, at the time when our former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, ruled the country. It should also be noted that forced conversions, where the ‘immature and mature’ Hindu girls would be converted against their will, would rarely surface in interior Sindh at the time of Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government.

When the dictator General Ziaul Haq (1977 to 1988) toppled Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in a military coup in 1977, he largely altered the educational curriculum in the country, teaching us intolerance towards other religious minorities, particularly the Hindus. During the dictatorial days of General Ziaul Haq, our textbooks fostered prejudice against the Hindus and often portrayed them as inferior along with other religious minorities. Also, the religious minorities were described as extremists and very little reference in the textbooks was made to the role played by them. As a result, forced conversions of Hindu girls also began to intensify during the same period. And, to this day, it has been going on with celerity in the land of the pure.

In the past, forced conversions of Hindu girls would not garner such attention because the media was not free. However, cases in recent years have been coming under discussion in the national media. An example is the case of Rinkle Kumari, which was taken up at the highest level by the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan through a suo motu notice. Interestingly, it happened at a time when the media highlighted her case.

What is more astounding is the recent report issued by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP). It reported that as many as 1,000 girls, aged 12 to 25, 70 percent of them Hindu and 30 percent Christian, are abducted yearly, forcefully converted to Islam by their captors, married off to men who usually rape them and, simultaneously, force them into prostitution and human trafficking. More so, the people behind these inhumane and barbaric practices have not been brought to book by our government. Our founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, promised the minorities their due rights. Our constitution too promises them protection but, despite this, they have been living under siege.

Although forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls are constantly on the rise in Sindh and Punjab, these cases are gradually and slowly gripping the other two remaining provinces: Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. For instance, Leela Ram, daughter of Kundan Das, was forcefully married off to a man who abducted her and later on converted her. Besides Leela Ram, there have been eight more cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls in various districts of Balochistan.

Tahir Hussain Khan, who is the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Balochistan, said that he himself has handled one of the cases of forced conversion of a Hindu girl called Neenam Kumari in court. Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also witnessed Hindu schoolteacher Sapna Rani’s forced abduction when she was returning home. A man put an intoxicant-doused cloth over her mouth and she fainted. She was rescued after two weeks of her abduction by the police but her abductors escaped.

Hindu girls’ education on all levels is affected by these forced conversions. One Hindu doctor, who requested not to be named, told this writer, “Despite knowing the value and significance of education, we cannot send our daughters to schools and colleges due to the fear of forced conversions. They are sitting at home despite having a great penchant for education.”

The HRCP has raised concerns over forced conversions and has warned of an increase in such cases in its report, ‘Perils of Faith’. It has also stated in its report that Pakistan’s Hindu community, unlike other religious communities, does not have a codified Hindu personal law in Pakistan that they can follow to regulate matters such as marriage, divorce, etc. In the absence of a codified Hindu personal law for the marriages of Hindu women, there have been cases where already married Hindu women have been converted. Sadly, the families of married Hindu women had no proof that would persuade the court that they were already married.

The number of forced conversions of our religious minorities, particularly the Hindus, is intensifying in the land of the pure. Also, in the past, cases of forced conversions only surfaced in Sindh. Now, however, these incidents are taking place in every nook and corner of the country. The government needs to take notice of the forced conversions of its minority communities. They are not only peaceful and love their country but have also contributed to its prosperity since inception.