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Forced conversions

ALLEGATIONS of the forced conversion of young Hindu women in Sindh, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, bring to light yet again the dilemma faced by the minority Hindu community.

Many families say they live in fear and insecurity as reportedly some 20 young girls are said to convert to Islam on a monthly basis. Each incident begins with allegations of kidnapping and forced conversions levelled by the affected family and ends in the girl in question being produced in a court of law to declare that she has converted of her own free will. Such court hearings take place under highly tense circumstances, where police and armed Islamists are said to threaten the complainants of dire consequences, and the ‘converted’ woman is not allowed to meet her family members or community elders.

Observing this repeated pattern and the coercion involved, the HRCP is right in questioning the veracity of such conversions. Why is it only young women of marriageable age, and not male members of the Hindu community, who nearly always convert under dubious circumstances, ask human rights activists. Reports of Hindu families migrating to India and elsewhere also surface from time to time, with fear and insecurity cited as the main reason for the move. The Sindh Assembly may have taken up the issue for a summary debate recently, but the provincial government has remained silent on the treatment of minorities, a general state of apathy being the unfortunate norm.

The law and order situation in Sindh leaves much to be desired. Kidnapping for ransom in cities and towns remains high; in the hinterland, especially where minorities are concerned, the practice also involves the abduction of women by those with any feudal power for reasons based in sheer lust and debauchery. In case the girl belongs to a minority faith, the crime committed often finds a ready alibi in claims of conversion, with the local mullahs mobilised to lend support to these. The law, even when it takes its logical course under the charged circumstances, is nearly always seen to take the convenient route: it endorses the ‘conversion’ and lets the girl go with her alleged abductor. This painful pattern, without any hope of redress or sincere investigation, has left the Hindu community in duress. The government must take up the issue with due urgency, and heed the advice of rights groups to take the women involved in protective custody pending a full investigation into alleged abduction and forced conversions. Democratic norms and plain decency demand that justice be served regardless of the faith of the parties involved.

Dawn

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