Nation special report
HYDERABAD and Karachi in Sindh witnessed huge demonstrations by the members of Hindu community on Thursday, Friday and Sunday in protest of alleged kidnapping of a girl belonging to their community.
In Hyderabad, sSeveral hundred members of the Hindu community belonging to the Kohistan belt — comprising parts of Jamshoro and Thatta districts — took out a rally from Pakistan Chowk to the local press club on Thursday against increasing incidents of kidnapping and alleged forced conversion of Hindu girls.
Activists of various civil society organisations and nationalist groups also participated in the rally, organised by an entity calling itself the ‘Voice of Kohistan’ in the backdrop of a recent case involving a girl belonging to Thatta.
The rally participants were carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans against ‘forced’ conversion of Hindu, Sikh and Christian girls. They raised slogans for protection of the womenfolk of their community.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Khiyaldas Kohistani, Women Action Forum (WAF) activist Haseen Musarrat, Punhal Sario, Bhagwandas, Deewan Lekhraj, Mahesh Kumar, Neelam Kumari, Dr Bakhtawar Jam and others spoke to the protesters.
They said that the Constitution guaranteed protection to the life and property of all citizens but Hindus felt insecure due to off and on incidents of kidnapping and “forced conversion” of their girls. They claimed that Hindu families were afraid of sending their daughters to school.
They regretted that though Hindus were equal citizens of the country, they were not being provided due protection.
“We are indigenous people; we are not going to leave Sindh, come what may!” a Hindu speaker at the rally said, and warned that if their voice was not heard, they would hold rallies in Karachi and Islamabad as well.
Other speakers wondered why the state was not responding to them. They referred to the March 15 shooting incident at a New Zealand mosque after which its prime minister shared grief of the Muslim community “but our prime minister appears least concerned about the plight of the Hindu community here”.
They said that a Thatta girl, an intermediate student, appeared in a Karachi court recently and it was claimed that she had embraced Islam and contracted a marriage with her teacher. Expressing serious doubts over the claim, they said they would go to every limit to seek her recovery.
They claimed that over 50 minority community girls had been kidnapped over the last four months. They called for safeguarding the rights of Hindus so that they could study in their institutions without any fear.
The speakers urged the government to enact law for the protection of Hindu girls and help curb “forced conversion”. They complained that the federal government was not paying any heed to their calls in this regard.
In another protest held outside the Hyderabad Press Club, the protestors said that 16-year-old Vidiya Rajesh has been missing from the Maripur Grex area since May 20. They carried placards and banners inscribed with slogans against the alleged kidnapping of girls from minority communities. They shouted slogans for the protection of their community’s women.
“The community believes that Vidiya has been kidnapped, and rise in such incidents has increased the sense of insecurity among the minority community,” said Seema Maheshwari, a community leader and a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
She said that law enforcement agencies had failed to trace the whereabouts of Vidiya despite the passage of one and a half months. Noted community leaders and civil society activists Porho, Mohan Lal Maheshwari, Nasir Mansoor and Najam Maheshwari also addressed the protesters.
Meanwhile on Sunday, a large number of members of the Hindu community had participated in a protest outside the Karachi press club against the increasing alleged incidents of kidnappings and forced conversions of Hindu girls. The protest was organised by the Pakistan Hindu Council, a Hindu rights body, and attended by a large number of people, including parliamentarians, civil society activists and community leaders.
Hindu parliamentarians who attended the protest included PHC patron-in-chief and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, MNA Kheeal Das Kohistani of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), MPA Mangla Sharma of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and PTI MPA Sanjay Gangwani. Noted civil society activists Ross Mahtani and Jaipal Chhabria were also among the participants. The protesters lamented that cases of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages of teenage Hindu girls were on the rise across the province. Forced conversions were too easily and too often disguised as voluntary conversions, leaving minor girls especially vulnerable, they said.
Mentioning a recent case that occurred in Thatta district, the speakers said a girl, who was an intermediate student, appeared in a court in Karachi and it was claimed that she had embraced Islam and contracted a marriage with her teacher. Expressing serious doubts over the claim, they said they would seek every forum for her recovery.
The speakers said the country’s Constitution guaranteed protection to the life and property of all the citizens but still the Hindu community felt insecure due to frequent incidents of kidnappings and forced conversions of their girls.
One of the participants told The News that many Hindu families were afraid of sending their daughters to educational institutions. “We raise the question why it is that only young Hindu girls were inspired to embrace Islam,” he said. “Why don’t we find older Hindus doing the same?”
They reiterated their demand of the Sindh government to resurrect and pass the bill criminalizing forced religious conversions and subsequent forced marriages. On Thursday in Hyderabad, several hundreds of members of the Hindu community – mainly women – held a procession from the Pakistan Chowk to the Hyderabad Press Club against the increasing incidents of forced conversions of Hindu girls.
Vankwani meets IGP
The PHC patron-in-chief also met Sindh Inspector General of Police Dr Kaleem Imam at his office before the protest on Friday and asked him to provide security to the Hindu community members protesting outside the KPC against the rise in alleged cases of forced conversions.
Dr Imam directed the South SSP to provide security to the protesters and also told him to meet the protest’s organiser in person, according to a statement issued by the police. The police chief also said he would meet PHC leaders and parliamentarians to discuss the issues being faced by the Hindu community so that a proper strategy could be devised to resolve them.
The Hindu community claims that teenage girl, Payal Kumari was allegedly abducted by her teacher from district Thatta, Sindh province. The authorities did nothing for her recovery, instead, local police are saying that such cases are common, and she will come back. Her parents apprehend that she will be forcibly converted to Islam after her marriage.
The Hindu leaders said that it is incomprehensible why the state is so quiet on the issue of abduction of Hindu girls, the systemic cleansing of indigenous Hindu minority in the province is preposterous and heinous.
“Pakistan has failed to fulfill its obligations under constitutional provision and international treaties to protect the rights of vulnerable minorities from forced conversions and forced marriages. Every democratic state has constitutional and moral responsibility to provide protection against individuals or organizations that try to convert people by resorting to means of coercion or by directly exploiting situations of particular vulnerability such as underage marriage of minor girls belonging to religious minority groups”.
The recurring cases of forced conversion continue to make headline in the vernacular press yet the state turns a deaf ear to the plight of the poor parents whose daughters are forcibly or through coercion converted. Recently another case of forcibly conversion surfaced where a 17 year old girl namely Payal, daughter of Magha Mal Kohistani from Thatta, Sindh province was allegedly abducted by her teacher Kamran Soomro. On the morning of June 29, when she left her home for tuition at 8am she was abducted. Payal’s tuition teacher, Kamran Soomro is also missing since the same date. It is alleged by her parents that she was abducted by her teacher, Soomro, for the intention of converting her to Islam.
Earlier this year two minor sister were reportedly kidnapped and later a video of their conversion and solemnization of their marriage according to Islamic faith surfaced in the social media. The media was abuzz with the news of alleged forced conversion of two underage sisters Raveena aged 13 and Reena aged15, who were allegedly kidnapped by a group of “influential” men from their home in Ghotki district in Sindh on the eve of Holi.
In order to curb the trend the IHRC suggests a few measures; first and foremost the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) must be passed in The Sindh assembly. Efforts should be made to pass this bill in Sindh, the National Assembly, Punjab and across Pakistan. It is vital that faster response times are ensured in cases where abduction is reported. Sensitization of judicial officers and a system requiring greater accountability should be set up to ensure best practice in all cases.
The government should also consider establishing Provincial Commissions for minorities who will be empowered to take up forced conversion and forced marriage cases. The political participation and inclusion of minorities must be ensured; additionally the state must see to it that religious minorities have equal access to education, jobs and government positions through passing anti-discrimination laws.