KARACHI: Hindus held demonstrations in several cities and towns of the interior of Sindh on Sunday in their continued protest over what they claim “forced conversion of an underage girl” belonging to the low-caste Meghwar community and her “unlawful marriage” to a Muslim man belonging to the influential Syed community.
Civil society activists, mostly Muslims, also joined in the demonstrations in large numbers to express solidarity with the minorities communities on the issue of “forced conversion”. The demonstrations on Sunday were held in Mithi, Umerkot, Hyderabad and some other small towns of Tharparkar and Umerkot districts.
MITHI: Haqu Meghwar, the mother of the convert, Ravita Meghwar whose name was changed to Gulnaz after her controversial conversion, was in the frontline of the four-hour-long demonstration held at Kashmir Chowk in Mithi.
She, along with Kirshan Sharma, Dr Raja Shad, Tulsi Meghwar and others, insisted that Ravita had just attained the age of 16 when she was “kidnapped by some members of the Syed community on June 6 by drugging all other members of her family”. She demanded immediate recovery of her daughter and action against her “kidnappers”. “My daughter must be produced in a court of law to ascertain her free will,” she told local reporters and participants in the demonstration.
On Saturday, Tharparkar SSP Ameer Saud Magsi, when contacted by Dawn for his comment said that a court of law had restrained the police from taking Ravita/Gulnaz and Syed Nawaz Ali Shah, the man who claims to be her husband. The SSP said Hagu Meghwar and her family members were being given protection by the area police, who would also ensure their meeting with Ravita/Gulnaz on June 30, the date fixed for the hearing of the alleged kidnapping/forced conversion case.
The SSP said that an FIR (14/2017) had already been registered at the Dano Dandhal police station against Nawaz Shah and three other suspects nominated by the aggrieved family.
In her statement submitted in the Sindh High Court, Ravita/Gulnaz has said that she had married to Syed Nawaz Ali Shah of her freewill after embracing Islam at the hand of Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi in Samaro town of Umerkot district, according to the SSP. Therefore, he added, the court had restrained police from arresting the couple.
However, Pakistan Hindu Council leader Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who is also the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA from Tharparkar, rejected the SSP’s contentions. Speaking to Dawn, he argued that police were bound to take the woman and suspects in custody once the FIR was registered.
UMERKOT: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA Lal Malhi, speaking to participants in a rally taken out from his residence, the Malhi House, on Sunday urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the “forced conversion and marriage” of Ravita Meghwar.
The protesters marched through the streets of Umerkot before converging on the local press club, where they held a demonstration. Mr Malhi claimed that instances of forced conversion in Sindh had become the order of the day, and observed that the Ravita case made headlines only because the girl looked a minor from her physical appearance.
The MNA noted that there were a number of seminaries in the Hindu-majority areas of Umerkot and Tharparkar districts but the Gulzar-i-Khalil seminary was the only one where numerous conversions took place.
Advocate Bhagchand Bheel cited the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act of 2006 and the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2013 to argue that any sexual relationship with 16-year-old Ravita was rape and her marriage unlawful. He stressed on concrete evidence and documentary support with regard to the girl’s age before a court of law could decide the case.
Dr Ali Nawaz Shahani of the PTI called for sending the girl to Darul Aman or some other sanctuary until verification of her age.
HYDERABAD: Hindu students belonging to various educational institutions held a demonstration outside the local press club on Sunday and raised slogans against “forced conversion” of Ravita and demanded effective measures against “growing incidents of kidnapping of Hindu girls and their forced marriages”.
They also raised slogans against the Sindh government and policefor their failure to protect minorities in the province.
Speaking to the participants, Shanker Meghwar, Bhagchand Bheel and Arjun Bagri urged the federal and provincial governments to enact and effectively implement laws to safeguard rights of minorities and ensure their safety and security.
They observed that increasing instances of kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls had caused great anxiety among the community, which felt insecure in the province. “Our life, property and honour all are at stake,” they said.
They supported demand by Ravita’s family of her safe recovery and actions against the suspects named in the FIR lodged by her father.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2017