The latest news of Hindu girls’ prosleytising to Islam has alarmed many rights activists and minority leaders in Pakistan, who fear that the girls are forced to convert. The fact that most cases occur with women, most of whom are underage, mocks the absence of a legal succor.
Pakistan is home to over 3 million Hindus, making them the largest religious minority, two thirds of whom live in Sindh. According to International Religious Freedom report in 2017, upwards of a thousand minority women and girls proselytize to Muslim faith annually. The choice of religion and a way of life is the universal right of any human being. However, the trend of conversions and their manner continues to raise many eyebrows in the country.
Media and human rights organisations, both at home and internationally notice a pattern in these female conversions. Young minority girls, mostly from poor backgrounds, are abducted and then resurface in the courts, within a few days, to declare their willful conversion from their faith. They also announce that they are now married and seek protection from their families.
Most of these girls are underage.
Courts do not hear the parents’ pleas in this regard.
The human rights organisations, monitoring the fate of the proselytes, state that these girls have a hard time managing their new lives, some may even be sold on for prostitution. There have been some who manage to escape their fate and return to their families and their prior faith.
Most faiths and their followers in the world encourage and welcome new members unto their folds. Unfortunately, religious minority in Pakistan becomes a soft target for the religious clerics who manipulate the girls of impressionable age. A good match and rosy prospects lure many girls to denounce their faith, while others are threatened with dire circumstances, forcibly converted and married off.
The appalling truth is that the legal fraternity chooses to ignore the deep-rooted problem of a minority community and only acts on a case per case basis. Hindu marriage Act clearly states that in order to change one’s religion a Hindu person should be of legal age. However, in the recent cases from interior Sindh Reena and Raveena were both under 16 years of age and could not have been married in Punjab too, where the legal age for marriage is 16.
There are some rights activists cautioning us against discouraging young folks’ conversion, arguing that it could deter them from marrying of their free will into Muslim families—interfaith marriages are not accepted legally and socially in Pakistan. Sindh government’s Minority Protection Act addressed multiple woes of the minority and ensured protection. One reason of the annual Hindu families’ exodus from Sindh in large numbers is the security of their female children while the zealous clerics cook up schemes in their midst. The legal age to choose a different religion was a huge part of the law and offered severe legal consequences to those who forced young ones into denouncing their faith.
The law was terminated due to pressures from the religious pressure and left the minorities vulnerable.
Imran Khan took notice of the recent cases of underage Hindu girls’ conversion, ordering an inquiry and redressal. But until a law to protect minorities isn’t enacted, no minority girl can be safe in Pakistan.