Court orders state to take custody of Ghotki girls till case is decided

Updated Mar 27 2019

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Judge orders state to ensure protection of girls who were allegedly forcibly converted and married to Muslim men. ─ Dawn/File
Judge orders state to ensure protection of girls who were allegedly forcibly converted and married to Muslim men. ─ Dawn/File

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday, while hearing a petition filed by two Ghotki sisters who were allegedly forcibly converted from Hindusim and married to Muslim men, ordered the state to take over custody of the girls and ensure their safety till their case is decided.

The petition, filed by the girls and their spouses Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali, has sought protection from adverse action. It states that the girls left their home on March 20. On March 22, after announcing that they had willingly converted, the girls sought legal help.

According to the petition, the two girls were born in a Hindu family and converted because they were "impressed by Islamic teachings". It claimed that they did not inform their family because of threats to their lives.

They claimed that MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani and Hari Lal from the Hindu Council had concocted "a false and fabricated story" about their forceful conversion.

The petitioners subsequently left their native town of Ghotki in Sindh and travelled to Khanpur in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab. They travelled to Islamabad after learning that the inspector general of Sindh and Punjab were planning an operation in Khanpur against them and, the petition claimed, feared that the police may kill them if they are apprehended to show "progress" to the governing party.

They asked the court to restrain the respondent authorities ─ the state minister for interior, Sindh chief minister, inspectors general of Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad police, MNA Vankwani and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) ─ from "harassing" and "threatening" them, as well as requesting that Pemra be asked to refrain from "promoting propaganda" against the petitioners.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard the petition in Courtroom 1, where both girls and their alleged spouses were also present. Representatives of the federal government, Islamabad administration, and Sindh police, and the director general Human Rights were all present in court today.

When Justice Minallah inquired about the age of the girls, their lawyer responded that one of the girls was 20-years-old.

"This is an extremely sensitive issue. Pakistan's international standing is tied to it," the judge remarked. "Ensuring the rights of minorities is our responsibility."

He stated that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) had also spoken about the rights of minorities on different occasions.

"I have heard the prime minister has ordered a fair and transparent inquiry into the matter, and that Shireen Mazari is also looking into it," Justice Minallah said.

A government representative told the judge that the inquiry will be completed within a week.

"DC sahab, until the final report is submitted, they [the girls] will remain your guests," Justice Minallah told the official.

The judge ordered the state to take over custody of the girls, and they were subsequently handed over to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat.

"Even if the girls are placed in a shelter home, the federal government must ensure their protection," the judge asserted. "A district and sessions judge will be appointed a guardian in this case."

The IHC chief justice ordered that an SP-rank police officer who is female should appointed on duty with the sisters to ensure their safety.

Both girls were transported to a shelter home from the IHC as the hearing wrapped up.

Their alleged spouses, Barkat and Shafqat, were granted protective bail until April 9. They had submitted a request for protective bail to the court today through their lawyer Umair Baloch. The plea stated that both had been named in the FIR and their arrests should be stopped.

The IHC stopped police from arresting them and ordered that the two appear in the relevant court on Apr 9.

The case was adjourned until April 2.

Additionally, today Senator Krishna Kumari submitted a request to the interior ministry to meet the girls.

As per the request, Kumari said it was important to meet the girls' parents as well in order to find out the facts.

She said that as a representative of the Hindu community it was her responsibility to meet them and asked that orders for arranging the meeting should be given.

Kumari's request is still pending.

Brother petitions court for recovery of sisters

Meanwhile, Shaman Das, the girls' brother, approached the LHC's Bahawalpur bench against the regional police officer Bahawalpur, the district police officer Rahim Yar Khan, and the station house officer Khanpur, seeking the immediate recovery of his sisters.

He stated in the petition that his sisters are minors, with one's age 14 or 15, and the other's, 12 or 13.

The petition has been fixed for hearing tomorrow.

With additional reporting by Nadir Guramani in Islamabad and Mohammad Imran in Bahawalpur.