Islamabad High Court forms commission to probe alleged forced conversion of Ghotki girls

April 02, 2019

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The two girls' family members outside the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
The two girls' family members outside the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday, while hearing a petition filed by two Ghotki sisters who were allegedly forcibly converted from Hinduism and married to Muslim men, constituted a five-member commission to probe whether the girls' conversion was actually forced and to determine whether or not they were underage at the time of their marriages.

The court named renowned Islamic scholar Mufti Taqi Usmani as the fifth member of the commission which includes four people who were earlier appointed as amicus curiae to assist the court; they include Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson Dr Mehdi Hasan, National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz and veteran journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman.

The petition, filed by the girls and the two men they were married to, had sought protection against possible adverse action by the government. It stated 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.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah today also ordered that a medical board be constituted to determine the age of the girls.

A medical report prepared by the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), based on a bone test of the two girls, stated that they were not minors at the time of their marriages to the Muslim men.

The Pims report was dismissed by the family of the two girls as well as PML-N MNA Dr Darshan, who belongs to the Hindu minority. Dr Darshan said that only an independent medical board could determine the age of the girls.

Justice Minallah stated that he had received the report but would not comment on its findings.

The medical board was asked to submit a report at the next hearing of the petition.

On Monday, the girls' father had also filed a petition in the IHC, requesting the court to constitute a medical board "for determination of the exact age" of the two sisters.

The petition also sought directions for the government to "conduct psychological test … to ascertain their mental capability/state of mind and for diagnosis of Stockholm syndrome".

Stockholm syndrome has been defined as the "feeling of trust or affection felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a captor".

During the hearing on Tuesday, the court expressed displeasure over what it said was the "lethargic attitude" of the federal and provincial governments as neither the interior secretary nor the chief secretary of the Sindh government had appeared before the IHC despite prior notices.

On March 26, the IHC had ordered the state to take over custody of the girls and ensure their safety until their case is decided.

The hearing of the case has been adjourned till April 11.