Pakistan’s decision to reject a bill that would have banned forced conversions to Islam is the latest blow to the Islamic Republic’s religious minority population. This exasperates the need to ensure the country becomes secular and HinduPACT is calling on the international community to unify and ensure this comes to fruition.
The fragility of the democratic process, that is still non-existent in Pakistan, is on full display with this latest failure to protect the most vulnerable members of Pakistan’s society, especially Christians, Hindus and other minorities in Sindh and Punjab.
“Democracy in Pakistan is weak and even in that system there is no willingness to help the country’s religious minorities,” said HinduPACT Executive Director Utsav Chakrabarti. “True democracy cannot take place unless Pakistan becomes a secular State and it is incumbent on the international community to make sure Pakistan becomes a secular State.”
“The rejection of a bill that expressly prohibits forced conversions of religious minorities, and even more important, criminalizes the forced conversion of underage non-Muslim girls in Pakistan is truly tragic, but for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interreligious Harmony to term a bill that aims to protect the basic rights of minority citizens as non-Islamic is clear evidence of how systemic the religious intolerance is in the Pakistani establishment,” said Rakhi Israni, who leads HinduPACT’s CHINGARI, a project that deals with this issue.
The bill, which was signed by nearly 40 human rights groups and included signatures by known human rights activists like Irfan Mufti, Mohammad Tahseen, Peter Jacob, Rubina Jamil, and Syeda Ghulam Fatima, among others, was rejected by Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee. It sought to make 18 years the minimum legal age for conversion.
For Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri to suggest that there should be no age limit for conversion is egregious. And for him to reason that a potential law meant to protect minority rights would “create further problems” for them and would make them “more vulnerable” is counterintuitive.
True democracy is defined by a nation’s ability to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Until Pakistan becomes a secular state, the fate of its non-Muslim minority population continues to hang in the balances.
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