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Conversion controversy girl sent to govt-run shelter

Tahir Siddiqui

KARACHI: The girl who has become embroiled in a conversion controversy was on Monday sent to a state-run shelter by the Sindh High Court with the direction to its administration not to allow her parents or the man who claims to be her husband to meet her till March 26 when she will be produced before the Supreme Court.

A single bench headed by Justice Shahid Anwer Bajwah was seized with the petition of Raj Kumar for the recovery of his teenage maternal niece, Rinkle Kumari, who, according to him, was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam before being married off to Syed Naveed Shah.

At the outset of the hearing, the court had to rise for a brief interval as a large number of relatives of the couple and lawyers packed the courtroom and raised slogans when the girl was produced in court amidst tight security.

The judge observed in his order that it did not need to be emphasised that the atmosphere was extremely charged. He said scores of people almost lost control when the allegedly abducted girl was produced in court.

The judge put off the recording of Ms Kumari’s statement till the next hearing observing that it was difficult to visualise anyone exercising his or her free will in such an atmosphere.

The petitioner, represented by Advocates Rasheed A. Razvi and Noor Naz Agha, claimed that his niece was abducted on Feb 24 by Syed Naveed Shah and a case (FIR No 21/2012) was lodged against the suspect at the Mirpur Mathelo police station.

He said that she was produced before the area magistrate on Feb 25 and handed over to the SHO who was also directed by the court not to allow anyone, including the parents, to meet her.

The petitioner stated that his niece was again produced on Feb 27 before the judicial magistrate, who allowed her to go with Mr Shah.

The petitioner’s counsel referred to the March 8 Supreme Court order directing the Sindh police chief to take all steps for the recovery of three abducted Hindu women, including Ms Kumari, and produce them in court on March 26.

Advocate Razvi contended that the real question involving the two parties was whether the petitioner was abducted and forced into conversion and marriage or whether she did so voluntarily.

He submitted that the judicial magistrate passed the order in a very charged atmosphere and there was a serious danger to the life of Ms Kumari as Mr Shah belonged to the community of a sitting MNA, also a Pir.

The counsel stated that the girl was surrounded by armed persons even when she appeared before the media during a press conference.

Advocate Razvi said that an atmosphere of intimidation was created around the abducted girl when she was produced before the judicial magistrate for recording her statement. He said that it would not be appropriate to pass an order on the basis of her statement given in such an atmosphere.

Advocate Junaid Farooqi, counsel for respondent Syed Naveed Shah, submitted that Ms Kumari was the lawfully wedded wife of his client and it was not a clash between two religious communities. He blamed the media for blowing up the issue out of all proportion.

Advocate Ghulam Qadir appearing for the girl stated that as an adult and sui juris — or independent — she was entitled to liberties under the law.

The girl told newsmen during a press conference on Sunday that she embraced Islam without any coercion and married Syed Naveed Shah of her own accord. She identified herself as Syeda Faryal Bibi.

Advocate General Abdul Fateh Malik submitted that in view of the charged atmosphere surrounding the case it would be appropriate if the girl was kept in state custody.

In his order, the judge observed: “In this situation of charged atmosphere it is difficult to visualize as to how anyone can exercise his or her free will. Even an advocate stated that a particular religious seminary intends to file an application under Order 1 Rule 10 CPC.

Intimidation is not necessarily always a physical act but the ambience created could also have the effect of intimidation. Given such situation, it would not be appropriate at this state to record her statement and it would in the fitness of things if she is kept isolated from both the contending parties. Consequently, the alleged abductee is ordered to be lodged at Panah Shelter Home. Inspector General of Police, Sindh, is directed to ensure that she is provided full and proper security. It shall also be ensured that no one, not even either from parents’ side or from her husband’s side, is allowed to meet her during this entire period and she is directed to be produced before the Honourable Supreme Court as ordered by the Honourable Supreme Court on 26-3-2012.”

The judge adjourned the hearing to March 29.