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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Pakistani Hindus to protest on March 30 outside Sindh Assembly for bill against forced conversion of minor Hindu girls

The Pakistani Hindu community has called for a protest against the ongoing abduction and forced conversion of minor Hindu girls, and police apathy towards these atrocities in the country.

The protest is being organized by the Pakistan Darawer Itehad (PDI), a minority rights group founded by activist Faqir Shiva Kachhi, and will take place outside the Sindh Assembly on March 30, 2023. The main goal is to draw attention to the urgent need for an anti-forced conversion bill to be introduced and passed in Pakistan.

In recent years, the persecution and atrocities against the Pakistani Hindu community have intensified, with forced conversions of minor Hindu girls being one of the most egregious examples. This ongoing human rights crisis has sparked outrage among the Hindu community and human rights activists, who are demanding action to protect vulnerable girls.

In a video address, Kachhi said thousands of people from all communities – Hindu, Christian, Muslim – would be taking part in the protest. He said that cases of abduction and forced conversion & marriage of minor girls are only increasing, and it is forcing terrorized Hindus to migrate out of Pakistan. Despite past appeals to pass a law against these forced conversions, nothing has materialized he added.

“Please spare us, we are Pakistanis, we want to live and die here, but are being forced to flee….we will sit in front of Sindh Assembly with our women and children till our issue is solved. Please don’t tell us that because of us the country’s image is getting spoiled. Pakistan Zindabad, Pak Army Zindabad,” he ended, with an appeal to Pakistan PM, President, CJI and other prominent personalities.

For years, extremist groups in Pakistan have targeted Hindu girls and women, abducting them from their homes or on their way to school, and then subjecting them to forced conversions and marriages to their abductors. Many of these victims are minors who are unable to legally consent to such marriages or conversions.

Earlier this month, PDI had held a protest outside Mirpur Khas press club on the same issue. Speaking to Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune, Kacchi said “Over 1,000 Hindu women are being abducted, converted and married to Muslim men annually. Unfortunately, 80 per cent of these girls are minors. We have to either stage a protest or file an appeal in a court for the registration of FIRs against abductions. Our people feel unsafe. They do not trust the police. Even married women are being kidnapped and converted.”

In Sindh a law exist called Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which was passed in 2014 in the Provincial Assembly of Sindh in Pakistan, prohibits the marriage of any child under the age of eighteen years old. This law was enacted with the intention of protecting children, particularly girls, from being forced into early marriages. Unfortunately, the reality in Pakistan is that this law is not being effectively implemented, particularly when it comes to the protection of minority girls.

Minority girls, particularly Hindu girls, are especially vulnerable to forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan. In many cases, these girls are abducted, raped and forcibly converted to Islam before being ‘married’ off to Muslim men. These practices are often carried out with the support of religious extremists, who are said to have the backing of political groups and the Pak Army-ISI.

Some time back, Faqir Shiva Kachhi had addressed an interfaith harmony conference in Islamabad, where he said that PDI has been working against forced conversions since 2020 in Sindh. Thousands of such cases had taken place in that period, and girls as young as 12, 13, 14 were being targeted, he mentioned. Despite the anti-Child Marriage Act being in place, minor Hindu girls were being forced to undergo conversion-nikah.


(Video archived here)

He asked, “Even if you claim that the girls are converting and marrying of their ‘own free will’, why isn’t action being taken against those violating the anti-Child Marriage law? This is not happening just in Sindh. In Punjab, the Masih community is facing this…someone mentioned Arzoo’s case, a 12-13 year old girl. But when an abducted Muslim girl in Karachi (Dua Zehra) is found to be minor, you are handing her back to her parents, but when our girls are proved to be minor in medical tests, they are still kept in Dar-ul-Aman (govt. shelter homes for women, which have a notorious reputation in dealing with minor non-Muslim girls) for months and years and parents are not even allowed to meet them.”

Kachhi and other activists believe that introducing a law that specifically targets forced conversions is the only way to address this issue and protect the rights of the country’s minorities. The call for an anti-forced conversion bill is not new, as the Sindh Assembly in 2016 unanimously passed the Protection of Minorities Bill, placing an age limit of 18 years upon conversions and enabling better due process. But religious parties objected to an age limit for conversions, and threatened to besiege the assembly if the bill received approval of the Governor, who then refused to sign the bill into law.

In 2019, a revised version was introduced, but religious parties had again protested. A sit-in was organised by Pir Mian Abdul Khaliq (aka Mian Mithu, religious leader of the notorious conversion factory at Bharchundi dargah in Ghotki), a political and religious leader and a central character in many cases of forced conversions of underage Hindu girls in Sindh.

Since then, little progress has been made to protect the rights of minority Hindus in Pakistan. The upcoming protest will hopefully yield some tangible relief to the besieged Hindus and other minorities of Pakistan.

Conclusion

Given the deep radicalization of majority Muslim community in Pakistan, the powerful hold of the maulanas, and the ruthlessness with which the Pakistani Army-ISI silence any voices of dissent, it is unlikely that Pakistan will course correct on its own. The international community has a major role to play in addressing this issue.

Shockingly, most human rights organizations and other advocacy groups based in the West underplay this issue. Right now, these bodies are talking more about imagined persecution of Muslims in Bharat, than about the very real ongoing persecution of Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan. Western governments like USA continue to treat Pakistan as a privileged partner and never raise this issue of forced conversions in their dealing with Pakistan.

Even the govt. of Bharat and its representatives have failed to raise this issue effectively. The Indian Deputy High Commissioner Suresh Kumar was recently heard talking about ‘revival of trade to normalize relations’ between Bharat and Pakistan, at a Lahore Chamber of Commerce event. HinduPost has learnt from Pakistani Hindu refugees of the apathy they often face from Indian diplomats and embassy staff when trying to get visas to visit Bharat. 

For now, it is important that we all continue to raise awareness about abduction, forced conversion and marriage of minor girls in Pakistan, and put pressure on the Pakistani government and international community to take action.

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