Islamabad : The largest number of Hindus in Pakistan live in the southern province of Sindh and most of them have no access to education, health or basic amenities. Their women and children mostly work in the agricultural fields of their landlords all day where everyone can see them.
The struggle to earn a livelihood for their families makes many of these Hindu girls vulnerable to becoming victims of sexual harassment by Muslim men, says Dr Ramesh Vankwani, a Pakistan National Assembly member who also heads the Pakistan Hindu Council.
It starts with the abduction of these Hindu girls by Muslim men who are often married. They keep the girls in their custody, rape them and then force them to convert to Islam before marrying them. “There is not even one case in which anyone has willingly converted. These men, who are often already married, kidnap the girls, keep them in their custody, rape them, and through threats and intimidation make the girls say they converted willingly,” according to Dr Vankwani, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.
Forced conversions and underage marriages of girls are common in Tharparkar and Umerkot districts of Sindh where almost 50% of the population is Hindu. Such incidents, however, are rarely reported in the media.
According to locals, one of the main causes of abductions of underage Hindu girls is the support and backing of the alleged kidnappers by prominent and influential religious personalities. They help the abductors by providing them shelter before converting the Hindu girls to Islam and marrying them off to their abductors.
One of the main culprits believed to have converted hundreds of Hindu girls is Mian Abdul Haq, alias Mian Mithu, a politician and Muslim cleric from an influential family in Sindh. Several years ago, the family of an abducted Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari, had filed a petition against him accusing him of being the person who had facilitated and supported the abduction of their daughter.
Pakistan’s downtrodden Hindu community alleges that Mithu provides shelter and protection to the kidnappers of their girls and then forces them to accept Islam and marry their abductors.
Mithu, however, rejects these allegations, stating that the Hindu girls he had converted to Islam were not minors. “The Hindu girls who visit us are mature and come of their own free will. The first thing that we do is to call their parents to speak to them. If the girls are not willing to return with their parents, as a Muslim it is my duty to provide them protection,” the cleric had earlier said.
Local Hindus, however, contradict his claim. Requesting anonymity, they said no one can challenge his authority. “Mithu is a very influential person and no Hindu family can dare challenge his authority. There is not a single case when a Hindu girl was taken by her kidnapper to his place and she was not converted to Islam,” said a Hindu peasant in Umerkot district.
According to a 2018 report by the University of Birmingham, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted and then married to their abductors every year in Pakistan. Lawyer Amarnath Motumal of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told the media that 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted every month and forcibly converted.
In 2013, the Sindh government had set up a three-member committee to consider legislation to stop forced conversions and forced marriages.
In November 2016, the bill was passed unanimously by the Sindh Provincial Assembly but it failed to become law as the then governor, Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui, had returned the bill in January 2017. The bill was then effectively blocked by mobilisation from various quarters.
Under the proposed law, perpetrators could face a minimum of five years and a maximum of life in prison, while minors were forbidden from converting to another religion. Since then the Pakistan Hindu Council has attempted to get the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance against forced conversions and forced marriages.
Similar bills have also appeared in both the National Assembly and the Punjab Provincial Assembly but there has been no significant legislative movement in either case.
Source : TOI