IT is a sadly well-worn script: a minor Hindu girl apparently abducted, forcibly converted and married to a Muslim. As in many such cases, the latest incident took place in Tharparkar, which is home to a large Hindu community. If reports are to be believed, 16-year-old Ravita Meghwar was kidnapped on June 6 by men from the influential Syed community belonging to a village near Nagarparkar town. Her father has claimed that despite approaching the police several times, he got no cooperation from them. On Thursday, the teenager accompanied by her Muslim husband told journalists she had converted of her own free will. The two of them have asked the Sindh High Court to provide them protection against her family.
Minority communities have once again been put on notice: their belief systems, even the law of the land itself, are of no consequence when the majority decides to ride roughshod over their rights. While at present there exists no legislation in the province denying recognition to the conversion of minors — even though one came very close to being passed into law last year — the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, made marriage below the age of 18 a punishable offence. That alone should be enough to prosecute all those who were party to Ravita’s abduction and ‘marriage’. Certainly, there are instances of individuals from minority communities — almost always girls and women — who have converted voluntarily, and that is their right. At the same time, the issue of conversion cannot be seen in black-and-white terms. For it is motivated not only by spiritual reasons but also by material concerns. Pakistan’s social structures are such as to make it not inconceivable that Hindu girls belonging to the marginalised and impoverished ‘scheduled castes’ are sometimes drawn to the prospect of improving their lot in life by converting to the majority faith. This bitter reality only exacerbates the insecurities of minority communities who fear losing their younger generation as well as their own heritage in the process.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2017