PPP’s promise to stop forced conversions through law compromised


The Promise

Chairman of “Pakistan Peoples’ Party” (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari applauded the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of minorities) Bill, 2015legislation on 24 November, 16 to stop forced conversions in province. PPP is the ruling Party in southern province of Pakistan Sindh. Chairman PPP urged the other provinces to adopt the legislation in other provinces of Pakistan. He promised that the PPP, after coming to power, will introduce the same laws in other provinces too.

Background

Hindus constitute the largest religious minority of Pakistan; most of them live in Sindh Southern Province of Pakistan. They are facing a serious dilemma as young Hindu girls are forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.

“At least 600 girls and boys have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam during 2016,” claimed by Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) a non-governmental organization (NGO) of working class Hindus. According to PHC claims, “Authorities can not even register cases against forced conversions due to the absence of a law condemning forced conversions” 

PPP had promised legislation against forced conversions in Sindh during the election campaign in 2013 general election of Pakistan. The bill was moved by member of Sindh Assembly, reserve seat for Non-Muslims, Pakistan Muslim League Functional, Nand Kumar Goklani.

Sindh Assembly passed the law “Sindh Criminal protection act, 2015on 24 November, 2016 unanimously against forced conversions in the province.

Sub-Section 1 of the section 4 of the law forbids minors from choosing another religion of their free will until they reach the age of eighteen.

The law was lauded by human rights organizations, liberal forces and the political elite of the country. PPP, MQM and other political parties in Sindh Assembly supported the bill and adopted a new law unanimously.

However, Pakistan religious, banned outfits and extremist organizations rejected the new law against forced conversions. Religious parties objected to sub-section 1 of the section 4 of law which forbids minors (Less than eighteen years) from choosing another religion. They declared sub-section 1 of section 4 of law Un-Islamic.

They protested against the law and demanded its withdrawal.

Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was second largest party in Sindh assembly, which withdrew its support for the law after protest of the religious parties.

Syed Sardar Ahmed, parliamentary leader of MQM, said that he had written a letter to Governor Sindh asking him to send the bill back to the provincial assembly for review, he told to Truth Tracker.

“They withdrew their support of the law after protest of the religious parties,” he said adding, “their party agreed that prohibition of minors’ conversions is un-Islamic.”

On December 22, 2016 former president of Pakistan and president of Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) Asif Ali Zardari talked to Ameer Jamaat Islami, he assured him to review and amendment in law with consultation of religious parties.

“Sindh Criminal protection act, 2015” has been sent back for review to assembly, stated secretary of Sindh Assembly Ghulam Umar Farooq Burirro.

Tracking

Truth Tracker approached Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (BBZ) for his opinion but he was on U.S. visit. Media Advisor on minority affairs to PPP chairman BBZ, Surrender Villasai, responded on behalf of BBZ. He said that PPP is very clear on the issue of forced conversions.

Villasai Said, “we have same stance as it was before this act about forced conversions. If governor Sindh sent the Act back to assembly for review, we will review and consider the amendments against forced conversions.” He added that the aim of the party was to discourage and stop the practice of forced conversions.

“Our support for bill in assembly surpassed the promise made to the minorities during the general election 2013 by PPP,” claimed Villasai. He said PPP gave immense support to the legislation in Sindh assembly. “We still promise that whenever in power in other provinces, we will do our utmost to introduce a similar bill there,” he vowed.

Senior Minister for parliamentary affairs of province and president of PPP Sindh Chapter Nisar Khuhro told truth tracker that he had assured minorities on behalf of his party that we would not support any amendments favoring forced conversions.

He said that review of the act is part of legislation; it does not mean that the party has withdrawn the law. If anybody submits amendments or suggestions we will consider, he added.

In reply to question that PPP has compromised after immense pressure of religious parties he responded that protest is opposition’s democratic right, being government the party has to listen to everyone.

When approached for comments, Nand Kumar Goklani Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Pakistan Muslim League Functional (PMLF), said that Governor should have not have sent the Act back to assembly because it was passed unanimously. Nobody had disagreed over the law during its proceeding in assembly session, he added. Assembly is higher forum; opposition should present their amendments to the assembly, Goklani said. He said no amendment has been presented in assembly yet.  “Let them present the amendments first, later we present our point of view,” added Goklani.

Dr. Ramesh Kumar, a lawmaker member of national assembly from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) said that PPP is a liberal and democratic party but in this regard they have compromised after receiving immense pressure from religious parties. “Government of Sindh should convene all parties conference on issue we will present our point view and arguments before religious scholars of Muslims,” he added.

Kumar said that different Muslim countries have adopted law for conversions, in Malaysia no individual has the legal right to choose another religion without the consent of parent before the age of eighteen.

Independent Viewpoint

Akhter Baloch political analyst and human rights activist said that the bill was sent back by governor after huge pressure and protest of religious parties. Government of Sindh, PPP and other political parties stepped down because of protest by religious parties and rightist scholars also.  The law was remarkable against forced conversions in province, which is one of the heinous crimes in Sindh, he added.

Baloch said that it was ever first in history of provincial assembly that any private bill has got unanimous support of parliamentarians.

At least democratic and liberal forces should stand united against forced conversions, meanwhile those who oppose the law should be brought on board, he added.

Ruling

The Government of Sindh and political parties including ruling party PPP and MQM stepped down after immense pressure of religious and banned outfits. As a result of the protest by religious parties, parliamentarians agreed to amend the law against the forced conversions in Sindh. PPP promise has been compromised after protest of religious parties.

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