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LAHORE / RAHIM YAR KHAN: Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab to carry out an investigation into reports about the alleged forced conversion of two Hindu girls and their marriage to Muslim men after their abduction from Ghotki to Rahimyar Khan, the information minister told a news conference in Lahore on Sunday.

Fawad Chaudhry made the disclosure after he clashed with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter over the issue.

Mr Chaudhry said the prime minister had also directed the Sindh government to ensure that incidents of abduction of Hindu girls and their forced conversions did not take place.

In a tweet, Fawad Chaudhry quoted the prime minister as having said: “Our minorities represent the white part of Pakistan’s flag and we love all our colours and the protection of our flag is our responsibility.”

The two under-aged Hindu girls had reportedly been abducted from Ghotki, in Sindh, and were taken to Rahimyar Khan, in southern Punjab, where they were allegedly married forcibly to Muslim men.

Fawad terms Indian minister’s statement interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs; police yet to find the two girls

A first information report (FIR) has been registered regarding the alleged abduction at a police station in Ghotki on complaint of the father and the brother of the two girls.

A video footage which shows the girls recording a statement that they had embraced Islam without any pressure has gone viral on social media. However, the father and the brother in their video messages have complained that the two sisters were abducted and forced to convert to Islam.

The incident also caught the attention of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who tweeted that she had directed the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad to send her a report about the incident.

Ms Swaraj’s tweet ignited a debate on social media with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry. The latter objected to her statement and termed it interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

“Mam it’s Pakistan’s internal issue and rest assured it’s not Modi’s India where minorities are subjugated. It’s Imran Khan’s Naya Pak where white colour of our flag is equally dearer to us. I hope you will act with same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian minorities,” Mr Chaudhry said in his tweet in reply to the Indian minister’s tweet.

Later, Mr Chaudhry said at his press conference that the government stood by its minorities and weaker groups, adding that those responsible for the girls’ abduction and their “forced conversion” would soon be arrested.

He acknowledged that such incidents did take place and said the real test was how the state responded.

Chiding New Delhi for violating the rights of minorities in India, Mr Chaudhry said hundreds of Muslims were killed in Gujarat, while Muslims as well as Christians and Buddhists faced atrocities and Muslim boys, who were playing cricket on the occasion of Holi, were tortured.

“There is no worse and cruel example of pushing minorities against the wall than in India,” he added.

The information minister said the police chiefs in Sindh and Punjab had told him that the two girls were first brought to Rahim Yar Khan and later shifted to Gujranwala.

Reports suggest that the girls — Reena and Raveena, daughters of Hari Laal of Maighwal community — converted to Islam at Khanqah Aalia Qadria Bharchundi Sharif in Daharki. They are residents of Goth Hafiz Suleman Dahir, four kilometres off Daharki.

The certificate of their “conversion” to Islam on March 20 carried the stamp and signature of Faqir Javed Ahmed, the Dargah’s Khadim. On March 21, the family of the girls lodged an FIR with police complaining about their abduction and forced marriage.

According to the FIR, the ages of Reena and Raveena are 14 and 16 respectively.

Pir Mian Shamman, a prominent religious figure of Daharki, reportedly oversaw the ceremony where the conversion took place.

Reena, who was renamed Aasiya, married Safdar while Raveena, renamed Shazia, married Barkat.

On March 22, they approached a court in Khanpur for registration of their marriage.

Mian Abdul Malik, son of Pir Mian Abdul Khaliq, Sajjada Nasheen of Darbar Aaliya Bharchundi Sharif, told Dawn that the Hindu girls had neither embraced Islam nor did they marry at the Dargah.

He said he had learnt through social media that Mian Javed, son-in-law of Mian Abdul Haq, popularly known as Mian Mithoo, had issued the certificate of the girls’ conversion to Islam and performed their Nikah as well.

Izhar Hussain Lahori, the DSP of Ubauro, said the Sindh police had sent teams to Khanpur for their recovery but in vain.

Sunni Tehreek leader Tahir Zeeshan Qadri, in whose office the brides and the grooms had spoken to the media in Khanpur on Friday, said police had picked up Jawed Gill, secretary general of Sunni Tehreek in Punjab, the nikahkhwan and some witnesses.

Khanpur Assistant Commissioner Mohammad Farooq Kamboh confirmed that Gill had been arrested under section 16 of the MPO.

Under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, any person under 18 falls under the definition of child and cannot be married off.

The brother speaks

Shaman Das, the brother, told a private TV channel on Sunday that his sisters had not embraced Islam and did not marry Muslim men at their free will.

“My sisters were abducted by some gunmen who barged into my house,” he claimed. He said initially police were reluctant to register an FIR, but when his relatives blocked a highway in protest, the station house officer (SHO) concerned came up with an assurance that a case would be registered.

He said the SHO also assured them about the girls’ recovery soon. “Later the SHO went back on his words and we saw a video which showed my sisters as saying that they had embraced Islam and married Muslim men at their free will.”

He claimed that he possessed the B-form of the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) that confirmed that the two girls were below 18 years of age.

Sindh Information Minister Nasir Shah said the provincial government was in touch with the Punjab government to ascertain the girls’ whereabouts.

“The issue that whether the girls were kidnapped or whether they had embraced Islam at their free will should be settled in a court of law,” he said.

The minister added that a contingent of Sindh police was present in Rahimyar Khan to carry out a joint action with Punjab police for the recovery.

Syed Irfan Raza from Islamabad also contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019