Karachi, March 31 (newsin.asia): “I do not want anything – I am begging the government to return my daughter,” implored a Hindu Pakistani mother, whose daughter had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam.
The agony of the mother was heightened by the fact that the system does not allow the girl child to return home.
The tragedy is that the general population turns a deaf ear to the cry of the mother in question. They ask counter questions to put off the inquirer such as: “What is forced conversion?” “Is it a reality?” “Are you seeking attention by raising the issue?” “Don’t you know Islam is a peaceful religion? Why are you giving it and the government a bad name?”
Shockingly, many of those asking such counter questions are well-educated Pakistanis. They would point out that the inquirer is missing the role of poverty in conversion. Poverty is the reason why the girls choose to leave their homes and convert, they say.
People hardly point an accusing finger at religious groups which indulge forcible conversions and at the State which turns a blind eye to what is going on. I still cannot forget how some reacted to our reporting on the forced conversion Rinkle Kumari, Asha Kumari and many other girls who were abducted and converted to Islam
Forcible conversion is not a new issue in Pakistan. We brought the issue to the mainstream media because it has assumed serious proportions of late. This is a grave issue also because many girls have gone missing following forced conversion.
We need to highlight the issue so that the State breaks its silence over it. In the Pakistani system, where the poor and the non-Muslims are not given a fair hearing, someone must speak for these voiceless sections of society.
Since 2012, we have been reporting on cases of forced conversion. But the media noticed only some and ignored most. Many cases could not be reported because the girls concerned had fallen in love and left their homes of their own will.
But the questions that need to be asked are: “Why only minor girls fall in love and get converted? Why aren’t older and mature girls do it? ” “Why girls do not love boys of a compatible age? How is it possible that girls choose only old men as their lovers?”
We are told by the defenders of such marriages that the girls are inspired by Islam and therefore their conversion is spiritual and voluntary. It is also said that girls from poor families convert to have a decent standard of living. In fact, however, old men abduct young girls and marry them using religion as a protective shield.
In 2016, I visited Madarssah Jamia Binoria in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province of Pakistan, where I got a chance to meet Christian and Hindu girls who were converted to Islam. I found the Madarssah to be very big with a lot of facilities. One of its employees accompanied us during the tour.
Before the girls appeared I was told that the girls had been inspired by Islam. The Christian girl was from Punjab and the two Hindu girls were from Sindh.
When the girls arrived, I asked them, why they converted. They did not make eye-contact with me but were looking at the lady who was in charge.
“I was inspired by the teachings of Islam,” said the Christian girl. As if on cue, the Hindu girl who was sitting next to her parroted the same line. I then spoke to the Hindu girl in Sindhi, her mother tongue, and asked: “Have you read the Gita (the Hindu religious book)?” She shook her head in denial. I then asked her: “Have you ever read the Quran?” She looked into my eyes with grief and then slightly moved her middle finger to indicate “No.”
I then asked: “ How did you get inspired by religion if you had not studied the two religions? Her reply was: “I don’t know. I was inspired by religion.”
I asked the same questions to the Christian girl who had read neither the Bible nor the Quran. But she too said that she was inspired by Islam.
I turned to the lady standing by and asked her: “Is it not strange that the girls had wanted to change their religion without reading about any of the religions?” She had no answer. She merely smiled.
When I was leaving the Madrassah, I saw a man and a girl sitting side by side and watching something on a mobile phone. The man who was guiding me said that the girl and the boy were to be marriedy. I asked him: “Do their parents know about the marriage?” His instant reply was: “No! the Madrassah is their home!”
Religious Shrines and Madrassah
The abducted minor girls end up at religious shrines. The shrine Bharchundi Dargha is specially involved in such cases. I asked the person in charge: “If they want to convert why do they always marry? “ Why are the girls surrounded by gunmen?” “Why do the girls wear the Abaya? In Pakistan all women do not wear Abaya!”
The other disturbing feature is that after conversion, no one comes to know about the girls’ whereabouts.
Competition between Shrines
I have also observed a competition going among shrines over conversions.
“Our Madrassah converts authentically. The other Madrassah in Thar is a fake. It does fake conversion,” said Shaikh Ullah Rabbani, who is with Jamia Binoria.
Weak legislation and courts system:
On March 21, 2019 two sisters, Reena Meghwar and Raveena Meghwar, were abducted from Dahrki in the city of Ghotki in Sindh district. They were forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to men who are already married with children. It was said that the girls left home of their own free will and wanted to marry the man.
The Sindh legislature had passed the The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 that prevents child marriage. Therefore abductors flee to Rahimyar Khan, a city of Punjab. The Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a law on forced conversion. But a phone call by a religious party led to the cancellation of the attempt to legislate. The courts are pressurized by religious parties to side with them on the issue of forced conversion.
Challenge of Implementation
Everyone in Pakistan demands legislation to present forced conversions but the challenge is in implementing it. “Who will implement it?” is a crucial question which has no answer yet.
We have seen that government did not use the child marriage bill to bring Raveena and Reena back to their home.
The case of Reena and Raveena is be heard on April 2, 2019 in Islamabad. We hope justice will be done. We do not want to see a repetition of the previous cases in which girls were not allowed to go back their homes.
(Veengas is Karachi-based journalist and can be reached at Twitter: @veengasJ)