By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Dec 30 | The plight of thousands of girls from religious minorities who are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year has once again been highlighted by a report done by an international news agency thus bringing in further embarrassment to the Imran Khan government which already has had a forgettable 2020, especially the last few months.
The Associated Press from the United States listed several cases where Christian and Hindu girls were forcibly converted to Islam and married to men having children twice their age. “Forced conversions thrive unchecked on a money-making web that involves Islamic clerics who solemnize the marriages, magistrates who legalize the unions and corrupt local police who aid the culprits by refusing to investigate or sabotaging investigations, AP reporter Kathy Gannon quoted child protection activists as saying.
India Narrative has in the past few months brought to the fore the miserable condition of girls from minority communities of Pakistan who have been victims combating not just the Covid-19 pandemic but also the deep state forces. Bearing the brunt majorly are Sindhi Hindu families who have already been living in fear for decades.
The Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organization based in Islamabad, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and several NGOs like the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) estimate that far more than 1000 women and girls are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors every year in Pakistan. Volunteer group Responsible for Equality and Liberty estimates that more than 20 to 25 Hindu girls are forcibly converted every month. These figures have been listed for years and the actual numbers are believed to have risen alarmingly over the last 24 months.
According to the World Sindhi Congress (WSC), the most vulnerable areas for forced conversions in Sindh is the Thar region (Umerkot, Tharparkar and Mirpur Khas districts), Sanghar, Ghotki, and Jacobabad. Bonded labour and forced marriage are believed to be the two easiest ways to convert minorities to Islam. Most bonded labourers in Sindh belong to the Hindu minorities and are enslaved as a result of debts. WSC lists three factors sustaining this trend: social acceptance of the phenomenon (traditional authoritarian and hierarchical rural society), vulnerability due to extreme poverty and inequality, and the influence of powerful abusive landlords, which affect national levels of administration and constraining political force.
Not only have they faced discrimination in getting food supplies, medical treatment from the authorities during the lockdown but also struggled to keep their women safe from notorious Islamic clerics like Mian Mitthu, his real name being Mian Abdul Haq, works hand in glove with the Pakistani agencies and plays a major role in the abduction and conversion of minor girls from Hindu and Christian communities before selling them off as sex slaves.
In a detailed report titled, ‘Pakistan: Religious freedom under attack’, released last December, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, had expressed deep concern over the extremely volatile human rights situation in Pakistan.
“The situation for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Pakistan continues to deteriorate. Multiple violations continue to take place under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan,” the report mentioned.
“Christian and Hindu communities remain particularly vulnerable, especially women and girls. Each year hundreds are abducted and forced to convert and marry Muslim men. Victims have little or no hope of being returned to their families due to the serious threats and intimidation from abductors against the girls and their families. This is compounded by the lack of police will to take action, weaknesses in the judicial process and discrimination from both police and judiciary towards religious minority victims,” it added.
The commission had recommended to the Pakistan government that all persons involved in the forcible conversion and marriage of minor girls should be prosecuted immediately. It also asked the Imran Khan government to ensure that the police respect the rights of girls and women, take measures to prevent and detect acts that violate these rights, and provide protection to girls and women, particularly in instances of forced conversion and marriage. Passing a legislation to prevent the abduction and forced marriage of religious minorities throughout all provinces, starting with Sindh, was also one of the main recommendations.
12 months later, the world awaits another report from CSW on Pakistan, hopefully detailing how the situation has worsened for the minorities in the country.
Therefore, having been criticized all over the world for the continuous ill-treatment of its minorities – including the Ahmadis, Balochs, Pashtuns, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Shia Muslims – Pakistan’s redesignation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, by the United States recently comes as no surprise. The US State Department has once again found the Imran Khan government engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
“Pakistan’s minorities often live under a cloud of fear and insecurity, particularly if they belong to disadvantaged classes or castes, or are continuously scapegoated and demonized by the powerful. Instead of receiving protection, vulnerable groups are ignored or thrown under the bus, over and over again, as they navigate layers of systemic discrimination and deeply rooted cultural biases, making some feel like lesser citizens in their country of birth,” observed Pakistan’s leading national daily Dawn in an editorial in May.
Unfortunately for the minorities of Pakistan, while the “fear and insecurity” has been realised and reported by national and international organisations, including media, the Imran Khan government continues to be in deep slumber. Self induced and intentional, probably.
(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)