Friday, March 16, 2012

Pakistan: Pakistani Hindus Allege Forced Marriages, Islamic Conversions

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Pakistani Hindus Allege Forced Marriages, Islamic Conversions

Leaders of the minority Hindu community in Pakistan's southern Sindh province complain that young girls in the area are being abducted and then forced to convert to Islam and married off to Muslim men.

The "Express Tribune" reported on March 1:

Pakistan People's Party MPA Pitanber Sewani appeared agitated when he reminded the government and its institutions not to force Hindus in Sindh to follow the path of Baloch nationalists who are waging “a war for their rights”.

Moving a resolution against post-marriage conversion of Hindu girls, Pitanber Sewani wanted the government to frame a law against the forced marriages.

During his fiery speech, he said that young Hindu girls are being kidnapped and converted to Islam after they are subjected to forced marriage with Muslim boys. He said that this practice has created resentment among the minority communities living in Sindh.

The most recent case is that of Rinkel Kumari (renamed Fariyal Shah). Kumari's family is claiming her back from what they say is a forced marriage with a Muslim man. The man's family and clan deny abducting her and insist she converted to Islam of her own free will:

Human rights activists say that other reported abductions of members of minority communities in Pakistan, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, have not been properly investigated by the authorities.

In the most recent case, Hindu community leaders say that an oath Ms Kumari made in front of a court in her home town that she had freely got married and converted to Islam was made under duress.

They say that many others like her have been forcibly taken away by powerful politicians - some allied to the governing Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The Hindu community has accused one of the party's MPs, Mian Abdul Haq, of supporting the abduction and the forced conversion.

But in an interview with the BBC he strenuously denied the allegations.

On March 12, a court ordered her to be given into the protective custody of a shelter until March 26. Sindhi Hindus claim that up to 300 Hindu girls meet this fate every year. They say that the phenomenon has forced many Hindu families to migrate to India. Members of the religious minority claim to have no one to turn to:

Except a certain section of media, these issues are hardly highlighted in mainstream media, the reason being the right-wing news policy of most of the media houses and growing commercialization.

Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (who took suo moto notice on the confiscation of two bottles of alcohol from actress Atiqa Odho) seems to have no time to have take suo moto notice or even notice of the forcible conversion of young Hindu girls. The honorable chief justice often quotes in hearings, that corruption cases have brought a bad name to the country, but did the CJ even notice that forcible conversion and persecution of minorities also contribute to the country declining image.

Moreover, over two dozen legislators belonging to religious minority have not been able to make their voices heard regarding a remedy for the grievances of their community. The reason for their voices have reached deaf ears and continue to be ineffective can be found in a quote by a Hindu parliamentarian who stated, “We are selected members, not elected.”

Hindu rights advocates ask why only young Hindu girls would be converting while the rest of the community remains happily Hindu:

Shaking with rage, Amarnath Motumal of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), asked this barrage of questions at a press conference on Saturday [March, 11]. It was held with the tearful families of victims of forced conversions who demanded that their girls should be returned to them.

“When a girl is converted, why is she married off immediately?” Motumal said. “If she has converted for the sake of Islam, then why doesn’t she join a madrassa to educate herself and spread knowledge about the religion?”

It's difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the facts of forced conversion of Hindu girls in the absence of comprehensive on ground probe in rural Sindh. On March 12, at least one woman told a Pakistani court that she "embraced Islam without any coercion and got married of her own free will":

Dr Lata Kumari, who was allegedly abducted within the remit of the Defence police station on Feb 2 this year, recorded her statement before Judicial Magistrate (south) Hatim Aziz Solangi under Section 164 of the criminal procedure code.

She testified that her former name was Lata Kumari but after embracing Islam she changed her name to Hafsa.

She stated that she married Nadir Baig, an engineer, of her own accord under Islamic laws.

She said that the case lodged against her husband regarding her kidnapping was baseless.

-- Abubakar Siddique