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Monday, December 4, 2023
KARACHI, Mar 30 2012 (IPS) - Bharti, a 15-year-old Hindu girl living in the Lyari area in Karachi, left home for her sewing class last December, never to return. Three days later, her father Narain Das was told she had converted to Islam.
“We were worried stiff when she didn’t come home. I finally found she had been kidnapped by the area constable’s son while she was out to a nearby market to buy trimmings,” 55-year-old Das, a driver who has now lost his job, tells IPS.
“For three days he kept my daughter; I don’t know what he did to her during captivity. Then he proclaimed she had consented to marry him.”
Hindus are just over one percent of the population of Pakistan of 180 million. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has noted a worrisome increase in kidnappings of Hindu girls who are then coerced to embrace Islam.
Among the latest to make headlines is Dr Lata Kumar, a doctor at the Karachi-based Aga Khan University Hospital, who was abducted Feb. 28. She was later traced and produced in court.
Her father, Dr Ramesh Kumar, who runs a private clinic in Jacobabad, a town in Sindh, tells IPS: “As she passed by my other daughter Jyoti in court, she whispered desperately to ‘do something for me’ before she was quickly whisked away.”
The Sindh High Court has ordered Lata to stay at a government-run shelter till the court comes up with its decision. But some legislators are doubtful about her safety there and have urged the government to shift her to the federal capital, Islamabad.
With her at the shelter is Rinkle Kumari, now ‘Faryal Shah’, of Ghotki in Sindh province. Her father Nand Lal, a primary school teacher, has now uprooted his entire family and taken refuge at a Sikh temple in Lahore in Punjab province, some 600 km away.
“At least 20 to 25 girls are kidnapped every month who immediately embrace Islam,” says Amarnath Motumel, a senior lawyer with the HRCP.
Fear of kidnappings and conversions is now so great in the Hindu community that many from interior Sindh stop sending their young daughters to school as they reach adolescence.
Dr Ramesh Kumar, former legislator and chairperson of the Pakistan Hindu Council, says coerced conversion, blackmailing and kidnapping for ransom is forcing many Hindu families to migrate to India every year.
“This is our home, but when the state fails to provide protection to its citizens, they are left with little choice but to leave,” he tells IPS. “Things have now gone beyond our control.”
Narain Das’s 24-year old son Lakshman embraced Islam a few years back and left home. He returned in a sorry state, as Abdul Rehman, three years later, begging his parents to take him back.
But in Pakistan if a Muslim is considered to have committed apostasy, the punishment is death. “To save him from certain death, we had to convert a Hindu girl into Islam, and got him married.”
The first time after her abduction that Dhan Bai saw her daughter Bharti was in the courtroom. “She was clad from head to toe in a black abaya (an outer covering), a dress she’d never worn before; her eyes were all I could see and it seemed she’d been crying.”
Amar Guriro, a Hindu journalist, says a majority of the forced conversions take place among the upper caste or business class Hindus. While there are genuine cases in which girls are kidnapped and forced to convert and then get married to Muslims, Guriro says there are also cases in which Hindu girls “convert of their own will, as dowry is a big issue in our community.”
In some cases, he says, “the girl’s family has to pay as much as two million rupees (22,065 dollars) as dowry, and if they cannot meet that demand, the girls remain unmarried. Sometime the girls decide to elope after finding a partner.”
Guriro says Hindus have 17 of the total of 30 seats for religious minorities in the national and four provincial assemblies, but have “never bothered to legislate against the dowry system or forced conversion.”
While acknowledging that dowry has resulted in many Hindu women marrying outside the community, Motumel says Islamic extremists have given a whole new meaning to conversions. “They teach young minds that converting a non-Muslim into a Muslim guarantees them a place in heaven.”
Mufti Muhammad Mufti Naeem, the high cleric of Jamia Binoria, a seminary in Karachi, says the issue of forced conversions is “pure propaganda against us by NGOs (non-governmental organisations.)” But he acknowledges to IPS: “We must have converted some 200 men and women to Islam in the last eight or nine months.
“I have a list of all the people who converted to Islam and they all came of their own free will. You can call them up and ask them if they had been forced or even coerced to embrace Islam. They live in an Islamic culture and naturally will get attracted to it.”
Naeem adds that those who spread the message of Islam and “bring non-Muslims into the fold of Islam will be blessed in the hereafter.”
“I have lost all faith in our judiciary,” says Motumel, who has represented scores of Hindu families in conversion cases. “The first thing the judge asks the girl is to recite the Kalma (the basic Islamic tenet whereby you accept that you are a Muslim) and once she does that, no Hindu family can take her back.”
In the courtroom, he says, “whenever the girl enters, she is usually surrounded by scores of religious zealots, creating an atmosphere of fear, not just for the girl but the lawyers and even the judges. Outside the court, you find armed men waiting for the crowd to come out.”
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