KARACHI: Abduction of Hindu girls and their alleged forced conversion to Islam was one of the most debatable subjects in Pakistan last week. The case of two such girls was in the middle of judicial proceedings but in the meantime, a 16-year-old girl belonging to the Hindu Meghwar minority group has been abducted in the Tando Bagho district of Badin, Sindh.
The abduction follows outrage over the kidnapping, alleged forced conversion and underage marriages of two Hindu sisters in Ghotki on March 20. According to the Information Department handout, Minister for Minority Affairs Hari Ram Kishori Lal has taken notice of the incident. Lal has ordered SSP Sardar Hassan Niazi to register the first information report (FIR) immediately and take necessary actions to protect the victim’s family.
The Minister has also requested a detailed report of the incident and issued directions to Director Minority Affairs Mushtaq Ahmad Soomro to contact girl’s relatives and provide them all possible help. In a statement, he made it clear that it is a criminal act to marry a girl who is under the age of 18. Underage marriages of girls are banned in Sindh under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013.
According to Lal, the Sindh government is working to establish the Sindh Minorities Protection Commission and a draft was approved by Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah on Sunday.
Police have detained at least seven people, including a Nikah Khwan (marriage officiator), suspected of involvement in the alleged abductions, forced conversions from Hindusim to Islam, and underage marriages of two minor sisters reported in Ghotki.
On Saturday, the government took notice of the incident after two separate videos started doing rounds on social media. The father and brother of the girls in videos circulating on social media said that the two sisters were abducted and forced into changing their religion from Hinduism to Islam. However, a separate video of the girls went viral, in which they said that they accepted Islam of their own free will.
In the video, a cleric can be seen next to the girls and two men who they were married to. The cleric said the girls were inspired by Islam and alleged that their family was spreading “false propaganda” and threatening their lives.
On March 20, the girls’ family lodged a First Information Report against their alleged forced conversion to Islam.
Deputy Commissioner Saleemullah Odho and Superintendent Police Farrukh Lanjhar paid a visit to the girls’ father on Sunday night and assured him of the government and police’s full cooperation in the case.
Police on Sunday said they had conducted several raids in Punjab’s Rahim Yar Khan district ─ where it was believed the girls were taken from Ghotki ─ and arrested the Nikah Khwan who solemnised their marriages, a leader of the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, and some relatives of the two men who had married the two girls. The detained suspects were handed over to Sindh police.
SP Lanjhar said that action was being taken on all available information to recover the girls. He was confident that the girls would be recovered soon.
Provincial minister Syed Owais Shah also visited Hari Lal, the father of the two girls. He said that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had contacted his counterpart in Punjab over the issue. He also expressed his hope that the two would be recovered soon.
However, Shiv Lal, a Manghwal community leader, described the assurances as lip service. He said that if the girls had embraced Islam, they should be produced before a court of law. He said that their alleged forced conversion and marriages would be challenged in the court, as both the girls are under 18 years of age.
Family’s point of view
The father and brother of the girls ─ who belong to a Hindu family ─ in videos circulating on social media say that the two sisters were abducted and forced into changing their religion from Hinduism to Islam. However, a separate video of the minor girls is also making rounds, in which they say that they accepted Islam of their own free will.
Lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir was among those who raised the issue on Twitter, sharing a video which he said was of the two sisters, one aged 14 and the other 16.
In the video, a cleric can be seen next to the girls and two men who they were married to. The cleric says the girls were inspired by Islam and alleges that their family is spreading “false propaganda” and is threatening their lives.
Nasir said the sisters were converted at the Dargah Barchundi Sharif. “As per Dargah, girls wanted to convert to Islam since long influenced by its teachings, but first act after conversion was underage marriage,” he said. The girls were reportedly taken to Rahim Yar Khan following their marriages.
Nasir also shared a copy of a first information report dated March 20, which was registered by the girls’ family against their alleged forced conversion to Islam.
with local police for ‘abducting to compel to marriage’. Age in FIR is 14 and 16,” said Nasir. “Under Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, every citizen under 18 falls under definition of child and cant be married.”
“Police has tried to dismiss the matter by citing a video of the two sisters in which they claim they will fully converted (sic) to Islam,” Nasir said.
Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry and India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj exchanged words on Twitter on Sunday after the latter shared that she had asked the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan to give her a report on the alleged abduction and forced conversion of two teenage sisters from Ghotki.
Chaudhry, responding to Swaraj, said that this was Pakistan’s internal matter and he hoped the Indian government would “act with same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian minorities”.
“It is Pakistan’s internal issue and rest assure[d], it’s not Modi’s India where minorities are subjugated,” he added. “It’s Imran Khan’s Naya Pak where the white colour of our flag [representing minorities] is equally dear to us.”
Swaraj, addressing the minister, said her inquiry for a report on the girls — who belong to a Hindu family — made Chaudhry “jittery”. “I only asked for a report from Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad about the kidnapping and forced conversion of two minor Hindu girls to Islam. This was enough to make you jittery. This only shows your guilty conscience.”
In his reply, Chaudhry said he was “happy” that there were people in the Indian administration “who care for minority rights in other countries”. “I sincerely hope that your conscience will allow you to stand up for minorities at home as well. Gujarat and Jammu must weigh heavily on your soul,” the information minister said pointedly.