Last week, social media was abuzz with the hashtag #Justice4PakHindus (Justice For Pakistan’s Hindus) after the reports of a Hindu girl was allegedly forced to marry a Pakistani Muslim man. This incident prompted twitter users to revisit the general treatment meted out to the minorities in Pakistan. Social media users vented their ire at the Pakistani authorities for their ‘non-serious’ attitude towards their religious minorities particularly the issue of forced conversion of Hindu girls.
The last week’s reported incident of forced marriage of a Hindu girl to a Muslim boy was not an isolated episode. In 2012, there were reports of three Hindu girls being forcibly converted to Islam.
Activists say that this is the worst fear of every Hindu girl in Pakistan.
Pakistani legislator Manwer Lal Vaswani had made a strong appeal in the country’s parliament asking for enacting stringent laws to look into such sensitive issues. Slamming the perpetrators of forced marriages, he had said that the police and other law enforcement agencies often did not help the victims. According to Vaswani, even supporters of some prominent political parties are also hand in glove with the culprits.
Vaswani’s efforts to get justice for Pakistani Hindus notwithstanding, there hasn’t been much noticeable change on this front.
Chandravati, is another lady who was allegedly kidnapped, converted to Islam and forced into marriage by a Muslim guy named Imran, according to a report by journalist Veengas. Veengas says that Chandravati, who was already married and had two daughters from previous marriage, was kidnapped and converted to Islam before being forcibly married off. Though she managed to escape from the clutches of her kidnappers, she is still haunted by her nightmarish experience of the past.
Chandravati during her interaction with Veengas reportedly said that every now and then four to five girls from the minority Hindu community in Pakistan (especially the Sindh province) were getting kidnapped and forcefully married off to Muslim boys after being converted to Islam.
Speaking to Janta Ka Reporter from Pakistan, Veengas said, “People (in Pakistan) are not dying because of half bread but bitter reality is, people are dying by the sword of religion”.
She voices her concern regarding the fact that young girls from the Hindu community are unable to attend schools or colleges as there is a constant fear of getting kidnapped and converted. She says that Sindh is known for its tolerant Sufi-culture and its cultural diversity, whose roots can be traced back to Hinduism. But the Hindus, otherwise known as the native population of the province, are now facing a near extinction at the hands of fundamentalists and those who use religion as a political tool. Veengas also reiterates that these issues are often not reported due to the sensitive nature and safety issue of the victims who don’t get much help from the police or the judiciary.
According to Pakistani Human Rights chairperson Zohra Yusuf, Muslim girls in Pakistan are also abducted and married against their will or sold into prostitution.
However, “if you compare the number of kidnapped Hindu and Muslim girls, in relation to their population in Pakistan, you will see that Hindus are more vulnerable” – especially poorer ones such as Madhuri,” She had told Al-Jazeera in 2014.
The HRCP doesn’t have a research to back its claim. No other organisation has the statistics on it because a large majority of the crimes go unreported.
Some activists have also questioned the role of Pakistani judiciary, which they say has done very little in safeguarding the interests of minorities and restoring their confidence. Abdullah Nizamani, a lawyer and writer based in Karachi told Janta Ka Reporter that there was “no special law to prevent forced conversion but Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan provides fundamental right to profess religion whether it is Islam or any other religion.”
Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his famous speech on 11 August 1948 had said that “you are free to go to your temple, mosque or any other place of your worship.”
Talking about the Pak Supreme Court’s role, Nizamani said, “Supreme Court of Pakistan in its famous judgment cited as PLD 2014 Supreme Court 699 has held and directed the government to 1. Constitute a task force to devise strategy for religious tolerance, 2. Appropriate curricula be developed at school and college levels to promote a culture of religious and social tolerance, 3. Directed federal government to take appropriate steps to ensure that hate speech in social media is discouraged and the delinquents are brought to justice, 4. Directed the government to establish a National Council of Minorities rights. The function of the Council should be to monitor the practical realisation of right guaranteed to minorities. 5. Establishment of a special police force to protect places of worship of minorities.”
A Hindu member of Pakistani parliament (National Assembly) Mr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani has also urged to Council of Islamic Ideology to do the needful for the Hindus who are being forcefully converted.
Nizamani also explains the background to such incidents. He says, “Prime reason is Muslim boys lure Hindu girls, ask them to convert to Islam so that they can marry. So primarily it’s the marriage that causes conversion. In some cases Hindu girls are abducted, forcibly converted and forced into marriage contract with a Muslim guy.”
But Abdullah Nizamani also mentions about the Sindh Assembly which had passed a resolution condemning forced conversion of Hindu girls but so far it has failed to pass a law in that regard.
Despite being an Islamic country, Pakistan has many famous Hindu temples. Katas Raj in Sindh, Hinglaj in Balochistan and Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple in Karachi to name a few. These historic temples have stood the test of time and are very much part of Pakistan’s culture and heritage, but if the minorities are not free to practice their religion, then a major chunk of the country’s cultural heritage will turn into ruins.