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Conversion Crisis

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

Can Islamabad protect its minorities from forcible conversion, underage marriages?

For the past week, Hindu activists and members of Sindh’s progressive parties have been protesting outside the Karachi Press Club against the “kidnapping and forced conversion of Ravita Meghwar of Tharparkar district.” Ironically, at the same time, a seminar in federal capital Islamabad complained about the “lack of pluralism” in Punjab province, where Christians, the second-largest community after Muslims, have been subjected to unspeakable discrimination for several decades.

Tharparkar is where a majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population lives—or to put it more realistically—dies due to famine and inadequate healthcare facilities. This annual tragedy occurs even as the feudal politicians of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party are unable to explain where earmarked welfare funds go, and the federal government allows proselytizing Islamist organizations to “look after” the desert community. The protesters at the Karachi Press Club were asking the Sindh government to ensure action was taken against spiritual leaders accused of helping convert young girls from Hinduism to Islam before marrying them off to Muslim men.

Meghwar’s case has provoked debate because she claims she was not forcibly converted, but rather eloped with her husband. The Hindu community disagrees. According to Mangla Sharma of the Pakistan Hindu Council: “Ravita’s marriage has also violated the Child Marriages Act. At the age of 15, she does not even understand her own religion, how can she willingly convert to Islam?” Sharma should have known that the law she refers to doesn’t apply in the face of fatwas that allow child marriage—so long as the girl has hit puberty—as part of sharia law. As a result, the various provincial courts in Pakistan have been handing down contradictory judgments. For now, the Pakistan Hindu Council has appealed the Supreme Court for suo moto action against “kidnappings and forced conversions and marriages of the Hindu community’s underage girls across the province.” They shouldn’t expect too much.

Last year the Sindh Assembly passed its Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill to prevent forcible conversion of girls, but according to local media former president Asif Ali Zardari bowed to pressure from Karachi’s ulema and withdrew the legislation. There is very little anyone can do to protect the non-Muslims of Pakistan.

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