My name is Fawad Tariq, currently persuing my MBA from IoBM. Focus is to bring a positive change in the society by raising legit issues.
The recent case of Arzoo Raja has left an unsettling whiff in the air which has undoubtedly force us to take force conversions of minorities and child marriages more seriously! A 13-year-old christen girl Arzoo Raja was abducted from home, converted and married to a 41 year old man Syed Ali Azhar. As per Syed’s claims Arzoo converted and married him of her free will. This case is still in court waiting for a final verdict till now the progress made in court, states that it’s a case of child marriage as Arzoo is still a minor as per medical reports.
Our law-making authorities have tried in past to pass a legislation against force conversions but every time a protest was awaiting. Two times in a row, Sindh Government attempted to prohibit forced conversions and marriages with a course of action for the court in the Protection of Minorities Bills, putting an age limit of 18 for conversion and marriage, in hope of a better outcome. In 2016, the Sindh Assembly passed this law unanimously. But age limit was criticized widely by religious parties.
There was a latest attempt in 2019 to pass the bill with a revised version but another protest stopped the process. The main culprit and a central character in many cases of forced conversions of underage Hindu girls in Sindh Pir Mian Abdul Khaliq (Mian Mithu), a political and religious leader, organized a sit in to oppose the bill. According to him, there is no force involved in fact these underage Hindu girls actually fall for Muslim men and convert willingly. Almost 2,000 Hindus staged a sit-in to demand justice for two Hindu sisters Reena and Raveen who were forcefully converted and married off to Muslims as per the claims of the protestors. The verdict by Islamabad High Court was on the contrary of those claims; it ruled that girls have willingly married the Muslim men. Both sisters have recently reconciled with their families after a year of dispute. (Source Tribune)
Herein lays the disputation. Though there are many cases of forced conversions and marriages, there are also cases of vulnerable young women fall prey to influential men who lure them into conversion and later marriage. The question here is; to what extent can the law differentiate intimidation from persuasion, and could enticement without the force or threat of violence become punishable?
Forced conversion is not limited to only Hindus of interior Sindh or Christians. It’s equal for all the minorities representing the white part in our flag. Worse for minor girls and women of minorities as they aren’t only victimized through conversion, but rape, physical and mental abuse, and abduction are some major crimes that are faced by them.
The small communities of Kalash valley, who only celebrates the change of seasons and don’t follow any text from any religion or has any place of worship are threatened to be killed if not converted to Islam. The numbers of conversions are rapidly increasing, especially in youngsters with Kalasha girls marrying Muslims and Muslim teachers persuading students. Statistics in this regard are alarming. A 2014 report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) says about 1,000 women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam every year. (Reference Modern Diplomacy)
We know about forced conversions and there are tons of cases and incidents that back this cruelty faced by the minorities but this latest study by Islamabad-based think tank denies all aspects of forced conversion in Pakistan. The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) published this report under the title Forced Conversations or Faith Conversations: Rhetoric and Reality, this study described the NGO reports on forced conversions as "out of proportion” and lacking “empirical evidence”. (Reference aa.com.tr)
This report includes accounts from two major minorities Christians and Hindus. An account of a Dalit(lower-class Hindu) activist in the report, “the narrative of “forced" conversion is projected by the privileged upper-caste Hindus to maintain their hegemony over the emerging political class of Dalits.”
In another account of a Christian scholar, Asif Aqeel, the report continued that “the data shows that the issue of forced conversion and marriage is much more complex than headlines in the media.” This media had claimed that nearly 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are being kidnapped, forcibly converted and married annually in Pakistan. (Source aa.com.tr)
This study is backed by the stats of the Humans Rights Commission of Pakistan as no authentic data is available on the issue. Also, a report by the Pakistani Senate Committee on religiously forced conversion also contributed that there is no proper evidence of kidnapping and forced marriages of Hindu girls in Sindh. Both this senate report and study by IPS hints that this is all mere propaganda by left-wing activists and our neighbor country and there is always some degree of agreement from girls in all abduction and forced conversion cases.
From Rina a teenager old Kalasha to Reena and Raveena two Hindu Girls from Ghotki and to Arzoo Raja a 13 years old Christian girl there are many more cases of kidnapping and forced conversions that touched our conscious, but the truth is yet to be known. In a country of almost 90% Muslim population, the 10% minorities have a constitutional right of protection of their property, lives, and the freedom of practicing their religion and no state should fail to do so.
With the availability of the data from the NGO and Senate committee, it is hard to give an adequate evidence over the forced conversions or kidnappings. Hence, to overcome the dilemma, the government is requested to form a regulatory body who has the capability to construct, evaluate, resolve issues of “Forced conversion marriages”. This body should be liable to provide relevant data to the senate committee so that the issue can be addressed on priority. This would help to identify whether the forced conversions are taking place or not. The regulatory body can be run under the direct orders from the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The body should also be given an authority to conduct independent investigation if any forced conversion is taking place and forward the cases to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where necessary.