Nikah Khwan among 7 arrested over alleged forced conversion, underage marriages of Ghotki sisters

Published March 25, 2019
Punjab police arrested the marriage officiator and facilitators of the ceremony, and handed them over to Sindh police. — AFP/File
Punjab police arrested the marriage officiator and facilitators of the ceremony, and handed them over to Sindh police. — AFP/File

Police have detained at least seven people, including a Nikah Khwan (marriage officiator), suspected of involvement in the alleged abductions, forced conversions from Hinduism to Islam, and underage marriages of two minor sisters reported in Ghotki.

On Saturday, the government took notice of the incident after two separate videos started doing rounds on social media. The father and brother of the girls in videos circulating on social media said that the two sisters were abducted and forced into changing their religion from Hinduism to Islam. However, a separate video of the girls went viral, in which they said that they accepted Islam of their own free will.

In the video, a cleric can be seen next to the girls and two men who they were married to. The cleric said the girls were inspired by Islam and alleged that their family was spreading "false propaganda" and threatening their lives.

Take a look: The truth about forced conversions in Thar

On March 20, the girls' family lodged a First Information Report against their alleged forced conversion to Islam.

Deputy Commissioner Saleemullah Odho and Superintendent Police Farrukh Lanjhar paid a visit to the girls' father on Sunday night and assured him of the government and police's full cooperation in the case.

Police on Sunday said they had conducted several raids in Punjab's Rahim Yar Khan district ─ where it was believed the girls were taken from Ghotki ─ and arrested the Nikah Khwan who solemnised their marriages, a leader of the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, and some relatives of the two men who had married the two girls. The detained suspects were handed over to Sindh police.

SP Lanjhar said that action was being taken on all available information to recover the girls. He was confident that the girls would be recovered soon.

Provincial minister Syed Owais Shah also visited Hari Lal, the father of the two girls. He said that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had contacted his counterpart in Punjab over the issue. He also expressed his hope that the two would be recovered soon.

However, Shiv Lal, a Manghwal community leader, described the assurances as lip service. He said that if the girls had embraced Islam, they should be produced before a court of law. He said that their alleged forced conversion and marriages would be challenged in the court, as both the girls are under 18 years of age.

Apparently dissatisfied with the police efforts, a group of Manghwal community members staged a protest sit-in in front of the Daharki police station on Monday. Holding placards, they said that the two girls had not been recovered despite the passage of six days and that the police was only giving them assurances.

During the protest, the girls' father attempted self-immolation by pouring petrol on himself, however, he was saved by other demonstrators.

Girls seek protection from IHC

In a related development, the two girls and the men they were reportedly married to approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to seek protection.

The petition, filed by them through their lawyer Muhammad Umari Baloach, has listed the interior ministry; Sindh chief minister; inspectors general of police of Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad; MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani; Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and Hari Lal as respondents.

The application, which has not been accepted for hearing as yet, states that "false propaganda" is being done in the media regarding the alleged forced conversion of the two sisters who are "law-abiding adult citizens".

It states that because of the alleged propaganda, the lives of the two girls and the men they are married to are under threat.

The petitioners say that the two sisters had been "impressed by the teachings of Islam since [a] long time" but that they did not disclose their conversion to Islam due to the fear of being killed.

However, on March 22, 2019, the duo formally acknowledged that they have converted to Islam before "numerous lawyers" of the Khanpur Bar, the petition states.

The sisters have stated in the application that they were not forced into accepting Islam and that they did so of their own free will.

According to the application, the girls and their purported husbands first moved to Khanpur tehsil of Rahim Yar Khan and upon finding out about a police operation being launched against them, they later moved to Islamabad.

The petition requests the IHC to restrain the government, police and the girls' father from "harassing" the petitioners for the return of the sisters to their previous family "and their forceful reversion to Hindu religion".

It asks the court to order the government to take steps for the protection of the two girls and direct Pemra to "restrain misreporting" on the case.



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