Forced conversions

Published November 7, 2014
.—White Star/File
.—White Star/File

“WE only facilitate their wish. We don’t impose our own will on them.” The bland statement masks a world of obfuscation as a result of which the marginalised of the country receive what, sadly, experience has taught them to expect: to be either directly victimised, or live in circumstances in which they feel victimised.

The statement by the spokesperson for the Bharchundi Shareef shrine in Daharki, Sindh, was in reaction to questions raised by the family of Anjali Kumari Meghwar about the attached seminary’s possible involvement in the girl’s abduction, forced conversion to Islam from Hinduism, and subsequent forced marriage.

After nine days of making a fruitless attempt to convince their area’s local authorities to focus on their plight, Anjali’s family came to Karachi and met the city police chief on Wednesday.

Her father insists that she was kidnapped from her home in broad daylight, and that hers was not a conversion by choice. He has with him Nadra and school documents that put her age at 12.

In the context of Anjali’s family, and many others like them, it is true that free choice stands compromised. It can only be conjectured how much pressure is felt by members of minority religions in a society where issues of faith are increasingly becoming the focus of violence.

Caste too can effectively become a stigma that holds entire communities in oppression. And, while it is as yet too early to pronounce upon Anjali’s case, it is a matter of record that the same complaint of forced conversion has been voiced before, that the caretakers of this particular shrine have also faced this accusation previously, and that an immediate and thorough investigation is needed.

That said, the case of 12-year-old Anjali should be very simple to resolve: forcing underage marriage has been criminalised in Sindh since last year, and the family have named the man to whom they claim the girl was married. For any government even halfway committed to the cause of the marginalised, the equation should not prove too difficult.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2014

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