KARACHI: Speakers at a discussion held on Thursday said that 265 cases of forced conversion, mostly involving Hindu girls, had been reported across the country last year while about 3,000 applications for migration were pending approval with the Indian embassy.
They were unanimous in their opinion that the Constitution guaranteed equal rights to all citizens but clear discrimination was in practice when it came to rights of religious minorities.
In this regard, they referred to what they described as biased attitude of police and judges in dealing with cases that involved people of religious minorities, particularly, in cases of forced conversion.
Know more: Forced conversions
They were speaking at the discussion on forced conversion organised by the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) Sindh chapter at a local hotel.
They expressed alarm over reports that kidnapped and forcibly converted girls were often forced into prostitution after the courts decided the case in favour of the accused without giving a fair opportunity to the victim family to prove their case.
They also underlined the need for a Hindu marriage law and demanded that the government set up a separate shelter home for forcefully converted girls of religious minorities.
Sharing findings of her study, senior advocate Kalpana Devi said that apart from discrimination in implementation of the law, there were other factors, including eroding social values, poverty, illiteracy, increasing media and individual freedom that contributed to increasing incidents of forced conversion.
She appreciated the law on underage marriage (Sind Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013) and said that people could now at least challenge cases involving young girls like they did in the case of 14-year-old Anjali Kumari Meghwar. A manual on Hindu family laws, she said, was needed to be developed to provide protection to families.
According to her, cases of forced conversion have mostly been reported from Jacobabad, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Kashmore, Kandhkot, Ghotki, Larkana and Sukkur.
“Articles 36 and 24 of the Constitution do not provide protection to women of minority communities,” she said, adding that discrimination could also be witnessed in educational textbooks that did not highlight the heroes belonging to religious minorities.
During the discussion, Mr Partab, father of a forcefully converted 14-year-old girl (Shunni) who was kidnapped from Hyderabad two years ago, shared his troubles with the audience and said that police had made no progress in the case so far. “The police have told us that now she is a convert and will never come back to you,” he said.
Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA Nand Kumar said that the bill on forced conversion and marriage had been submitted to the provincial assembly and concerns over discrimination and hate content in textbooks had also been raised on the forum.
He regretted that leaders of religious minorities were not made part of the committee that prepared the draft of the 18th constitutional amendment.
M. Parkash, Lal Chand Okrani, Ravi Dawani, Malka Khan, Veerji Kolhi, Manhaz Rahman and Jaipal Chabberia also spoke at the programme.
Published in Dawn March 20th, 2015