Karachi: Neelam Kohli 13, was kidnapped in 2014 from Kot Ghulam Muhammad, a small village in Tharparkar. She was forcibly converted to Islam and then allegedly raped by the kidnappers. The kidnappers, local influential Muslims could not be tried in the court of law because there is no law against forced conversion in Sindh.
“She was kidnapped from the village and after strong protests returned home on the court’s orders,” Neelam’s father Neemon told News Lens Pakistan,
Hindus constitute the largest religious minority of Pakistan. Most of them live in Southern Sindh and they are facing a serious dilemma as young Hindu girls are forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.
“At least 300 girls and boys have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam since January 2016,” said Hotchand, an office bearer of the Pakistan Hindu Council, a Karachi based non-governmental organization (NGO) of working class Hindus.
He said that his NGO does not have any official data, but the reports are from their own community members. In 99 percent of kidnapping cases, Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam.
“Authorities do not even register such cases due to the absence of a law condemning forced conversion,” he added.
Sindh is the first province to call for legislation against forced conversion. Ghulam Farooq Buriro, secretary of Sindh assembly, told News Lens Pakistan that a year has passed and the bill is still pending for approval in the provincial Assembly of Sindh. It has been under consideration by the standing committees for more than six months, he added.
Pakistan Hindu Council and other religious minorities welcomed the law and demanded that the assembly’s proceeding be accelerated.
The bill was moved by a member of Sindh Assembly, Nand Kumar Goklani from the opposition benches, who was elected on reserved seat.
“The bill is being considered by standing committees for law and minority affairs. It will be approved soon,” he told News Lens Pakistan.
Kalpana Devi, an advocate and human rights activist’ conducted a research study ‘Forced conversion; its root causes’ of over 500 converted girls.
She said, “Almost 60 per cent of the girls were forcibly converted; the rest converted by their own will for love marriages.”
She said that the Northern and South-eastern parts of Sindh are affected the most by forced conversions. The accused are usually backed by religious groups and feudal lords, and get away with their crimes.
According to her research study, the converted girls were kept in terrible conditions. “A few years ago, a girl from Larkana was converted to Islam. She was then sold three times after her conversion. She was bought back by her parents the fourth time and was sent to India.”
According to the proposed bill against forced conversion, a person who forcibly converts another person shall be imprisoned for a minimum of five years and a maximum of life imprisonment. A fine is to be paid to the victim as well and amount of fine will be decided in standing committee.
Whoever performs, conducts, directs, and facilitates a forced conversion shall be liable for imprisonment for a minimum of three years.
The bill also outlawed the change of religion by an individual under 18, in such circumstances the parents or guardians determine whether religion can be changed or not.
Goklani said, “The bill says upon receiving information about forced conversion, the police may take into custody the victim and produce them before the Court within twenty-four hours, and the court shall fix the first date of hearing, which shall not exceed seven days.” “According to the bill, if immediate production of victims or accused before the court is not possible, one should be taken to nearest shelter home or police station,” he said. “The case must be settled within a period of 90 days,” he added.
He claimed the all political and religious parties also welcomed the bill.
Mufti Naeem Muhammad, a Muslim scholar and head of Jamia Binoria told News Lens Pakistan, “I have not received a draft, but the Muslim community welcomes it as Islam condemns forced conversion.”
In recent years, two cases of forced conversions have been brought to light, in which three Hindus girls Rinkle Kumari, Dr Lata and Anjeli Menghwar went missing from their homes and their parents alleged that they were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. These were high profile cases and were taken to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where Rinkle Kumari and Dr Lata told the court that they willingly embraced Islam.
However, their parents alleged that they were under pressure and were threatened to alter their stance in court. The third girl, Anjali was under age, as Pakistani law clearly states that anyone under the age of 18 is a minor and cannot get married. She was shifted to a state-run shelter home. Office bearers of PHC claimed, “These conversions were forced. The converted girls were abducted and kept in private custody for months. The girls and their families received death threats which greatly influenced their statements.”
Raj Kumar Wanjara, a maternal uncle of Rinkle Kumari, who followed her case said that his family left for India after receiving death threats, but he himself is still living in Karachi.
“It is due to such incidents of forced conversion that Hindus prefer to migrate to India,” he said.
Years have passed, but his niece Rinkle Kumari has not been recovered. Other women are facing similar circumstances.
In Karachi alone, a large number of Hindu girls are being kidnapped and converted on a routine basis.
Motumal Amaranth, a lawyer and council member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told News Lens Pakistan, “The families of the victims are reluctant to register cases against the influential perpetrators as death threats are issued to them in case they raise their voice. Hence, the victims choose to remain silent.”