Sunday, June 23, 2024

Epidemic of Forced Conversions and Marriages

New York/Islamabad – UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday (February 16) began a three-day visit to Pakistan, and most of the Hindus and Christians living in Pakistan are wondering if Guterres would address their issues. Let me make it easier for the UN Chief to look at these burning subjects.

At the time of partition of India in 1947 a large number of Hindus in Sindh and Christians chose to stay in newly-created Pakistan for their own wishful reasons. Hindus had great faith in Sindhi civilization and nationalism which, they hoped, would guarantee their safety and Christians felt reassured by Muslims that they (Christians) were ahl-e-kitab (people of the same book).

Disillusionment came fast. In Pakistan they realized their post-partition status was that of untouchables. Pakistani newspapers published news that a Hindu or Christian customer in a Muslim hotel in Sindh was made to wash his own plate and glass after eating because no Muslim servant would touch them. A Christian student in a Punjab college was beaten to death by a Muslim student for using the same glass Muslim students used for drinking water.

It is difficult to explain why, despite so much despisement for Hindus and Christians, their girls are snatched away from their parents, forced to become Muslims and are given to Muslim men in marriage. Kidnapping of Hindu girls and forcing them to become Muslims has become a punishment-free crime. Courts, confronted with a stereotype tutored narrative of the girl that she became a Muslim on her own and married the man of her own choice, sanctify this crime.

The latest report (for 2018) for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says forcible conversions of Hindu and Christian young girls continued throughout the year. Once they were converted to Islam, they were forced to marry Muslim men. The HRCP estimated about 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls between 12 and 18 were forcibly converted to Islam and married.  The HRCP’s report is based on reported cases. There are many more unreported cases where the parents are too poor or too timid without the backing of their society to challenge the powerful and well-backed kidnappers. It is for this reason you’ll hardly see a newspaper report about forcible conversion and marriage of a Christian girl. Similarly, there are no such reports from extreme poverty stricken Tharparkar region. A large majority of Pakistani Hindus live there. They live in poverty and face droughts, floods, starvation and a very high rate of child mortality here.

Except for one case, there are no known instances of kidnapped girls returning home with the court’s intervention. One 19 year old Sikh girl, who was forcibly converted and married to a Muslim man in August this year, was sent home by the court. It looked like a political decision at a time when the Pakistan Government is trying to cultivate Sikhs. Besides the Sikh girl in August, one Hindu girl Renuka was kidnapped on way to college in Sukkar (Sindh) and forced to become a Muslim and at once a Muslim bridegroom was forced on her. Renuka was kidnapped when the Hindu Sindhi community’s anger was still simmering over the kidnapping of two sisters as young as 12 and 15 years in April. The two sisters Reena and Raveena belonged to Ghotki in Sindh where most business is in the hands of Hindus. The court ordered an investigation and accepted a clearly manipulated report in favour of their kidnapped “husband.” It was a scandalous judgement which shocked the Hindu community and the HRCP. Ghotki was in the news again in September. A Hindu medical student Namrita Chandni was found dead in her hostel room in Larkana. The post-mortem report said she was raped and killed. This incident came on the heels of looting of Hindus’ shops and vandalizing their temple in Ghotki following allegations against a Hindu principal of a school that she had committed blasphemy. Frenzied mobs attacked her school, Hindus’ shops and the temple.

One may find it very strange that the people who despise a community as untouchable are eager to take its girls as wives. Is it their love for their girls or something else? A Christian lawyer Nadeem Anthony claimed it was not love but the carnal desire to rape these girls that ultimately led to forced conversions and marriages after keeping them in isolation for some days. He was working on minorities day on August 11. Pakistan sometimes observes this day to remember Mohammadi Ali Jinnah’s address to the opening session of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly in 1947. In this address he had emphasized that there would be no Muslims and Hindus in Pakistan: “They will all be Pakistanis.”

From lawyer Anthony’s statement one concludes that a girl kidnapped, raped and kept in isolation by her captor will have no nerves to return home to show her face to her parents, brothers and sisters and her community. It is possible some of such girls choose to become Muslims in helplessness and marry any Muslim man to become his second, third or fourth wife. On August 3, 2015, Urdu BBC gave a report that in the last 50 years about 90% Hindus had left Pakistan. Till 2007 Hindus were secure in Balochistan, but after that, kidnapping and forced disappearances of Hindus became rampant.

Christians are another disillusioned community. They meet humiliation at every step and have been reduced to menials in Pakistan. They live under the threat of the infamous blasphemy laws, but are too poor to move out of the country. Many Christians have been targeted by mobs who get frenzied when somebody is accused of blasphemy. A Christian couple was thrown into a burning kiln in Kasur in 2013 when they insisted on their wages. The kiln owner collected a mob and told them that the couple had burnt a copy of the Quran. Around the same time another mob burnt 130 houses of Christians in Lahore. Five people – women and children who hid in a house – were burnt alive when the mob torched the houses, in reaction to an allegation that a Christian man had committed blasphemy.

These incidents go on unabated while both Hindus and Christians wait for justice.

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Linda Parker
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