KARACHI: Members of civil society gathered outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday to register their protest over the alleged abduction and forced conversions to Islam of two young Hindu sisters — Reena and Raveena — from their home in Daharki on the occasion of Holi last Wednesday and alleged abduction and forced conversion of another girl named Shania in Mirpurkhas. They demanded that the girls be returned to their homes.
Criticising the Sindh police, who are allegedly not doing much in the case, the protesters reminded the Sindh government of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which the Sindh Assembly had passed in 2014 according to which the minimum age of marriage is 18 years and making a person younger than that age marry is a punishable offence.
“Reena and Raveena whose videos on social media show them embracing Islam are only 16 and 14 years of age and thus too young to be married,” the speakers said.
“There is also another video of their poor father helplessly beating himself outside a police station, begging the police to do something. The girls had recently lost their mother and their father is also not doing well.”
Speaking to Dawn Mahnaz Rehman of the Aurat Foundation, who was also among the protesters, said: “Before the age of 18, one is considered a child and how could a child be making big decisions such as changing his or her religion or finding a life partner? Why can’t these children be allowed to enjoy their childhood?”
Om Prakash, medical student representing the Stop Forced Conversion Committee, said that they were tired of threats and pressures put on them for just being part of a religious minority.
“Before these girls, there was the Rinkle Kumari case and so many more cases. These girls are forced to convert and made to marry a Muslim man. We are not asking for justice for these girls. We demand action to end such injustice completely,” he said.
Dr Riaz Sheikh, academic and dean of Social Sciences at Szabist, recalled the Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani report on religious minorities. “After the Peshawar church attack, Justice Jilani had formed a commission to end discrimination and hate against religious minorities,” he said. “But we are still seeing these things happening all around us.”
Human rights activist Naghma Shaikh appealed to Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, saying “you and your party say that you are all for women’s rights. There has been a violation of a law here. These girls are minors. Please save them from those who kidnapped them, please save them from those who forcibly made them change their religion and marry older men. Please have mercy on their poor father.”
Prof Manohar Jaisrani raised the question that why it was that only young Hindu girls were inspired to embrace Islam.
“Why don’t we find older Hindus doing the same?” he said.
Zehra Khan of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation said that the government, the establishment needed to change its narrative.
“These Hindus living in Pakistan are the indigenous people of our country. Please respect them and accept them for who they are. There is no need to forcibly change them,” she said.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019