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ISLAMABAD: A ruling given at the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs on Tuesday not only termed forced conversions “illegal”, but also against the principles of Islam.

The committee, chaired by Senator Hafiz Hamdullah, also directed the government not to spend money generated from Hindu and Sikh properties on madressahs and Muslims in general.

Senator Hamdullah also raised the issue of forced conversions with Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman Siddiqul Farooq as he was working closely with minorities in the country.

ETPB asked not to finance madressahs; chairman wonders if Qandeel Baloch can be included in Ruet-i-Hilal Committee

“Forced conversion is against the teachings of Islam and also a violation of the law of the land,” Senator Hamdullah said, adding, “it is unfortunate that girls are being forced to convert”.

He added that religion was a personal matter for every individual and no one could be converted by force.

Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq also echoed this view, saying: “This is not a service to Islam. We are already under observation from human rights organisations due to growing incidents of forced conversions.”

Providing details, PPP Senator Gianchand said that Hindu girls in Sindh were the victims of forced conversions and such cases were alarmingly common in that province.

“This is mainly because police and local administration do not help the victims or their families, fearing a reaction from the local Muslim community,” he said.

However the committee was told by the ETPB chairman that the issue had largely been resolved.

“An individual named Mian Mitthu was active in this regard, encouraging his followers to force young girls to become Muslims,” he said, adding, “The practice has stopped and even Hindu elders are satisfied.”

He also said that many Hindus had migrated to India in the recent past because they were given incentives by the authorities there.

In his ruling, the committee chairman demanded that the government formulate a comprehensive mechanism for the protection of women from minority communities. The committee also directed the federal and provincial governments to draft legislation which would curb the practice.

The committee also held a hearing over the operations of ETPB, which has an annual income of Rs1.13 billion and expenditures worth Rs1.1 billion. The ETPB controls a total of 15,849 Hindu and Sikh properties, including more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land, 1,221 temples and 588 gurdwaras.

Mr Farooq told the committee that the income generated from the properties leftover after 1947 belonged to the federal government.

“Under the agreement with India, the federal government was responsible for the properties of minorities who had migrated from their respective countries,” he said, adding, “it is the right of the federal government to spend the money how it chooses; we can use it even for madressahs.”

However, committee members took offense at this and ordered him to spend the money generated from Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras on the welfare of Hindus and Sikhs alone.

Near the end of the meeting, the committee witnessed a humorous scene when the Minister of Religious Affairs Sardar Mohammad Yousaf informed members that the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee had been notified.

Earlier, there had been nine members of the committee, but the current strength of the list presented to the chairman was 26.

“You also have Mufti Qavi in the list too – he is the one who gave his cap to a model and posed with her. If we can have Mufti Qavi in the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, I think we can have [Qandeel Baloch] in this team as well,” Senator Hamdulah concluded, tongue-in-cheek.

Published in Dawn, June 22th, 2016