ISLAMABAD: Two Hindu girls from Sindh, who had allegedly been forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslims, did so voluntarily, ruled the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday.

The court also declared that the two sisters were adults and could live with their husbands if they wanted to.

The decision came during a hearing presided over by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah on a petition filed by the two sisters from Ghotki district, namely Asia aka Ravina and Nadia aka Reena, who converted to Islam and married Barkat Ali and Safdar Ali.

The father of the two girls and some prominent members of the Hindu community had alleged that they had been forced to convert to Islam and were underage at the time of their marriage.

However, interior secretary Azam Suleman inform­­ed the court that the five-me­mber commission constituted by it to probe whether the two sisters had been coerced into converting to Islam had concluded that they had done so of their free will.

The commission comprised federal Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, prominent Muslim scholar Mufti Taqi Usmani, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s chairman Dr Mehdi Hasan, National Commission on the Status of Women’s chairperson Khawar Mumtaz and veteran journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman.

Mr Suleman submitted to the court the commission’s report, which said: “There was no forced conversion but definitely it was a facilitated conversion through existing institutional framework that allowed for the conversion, subsequent nikah and the safe passage to Islamabad of the two couples which included a two-day stay in Lahore at a doctor’s house who the girls said was a friend of Mian Sahab.”

The report of a medical board led by the head of psychiatry department of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, had also been submitted to the court.

The court said the “board after examining the two petitioner sisters has concluded that Nadia and Asia are 18 and 19 years old, respectively”.

“The board is also of the opinion that the mental condition of the two sisters is satisfactory,” the court said.

Subsequently, the IHC declared the two sisters had not been forcibly converted to Islam, and allowed them to live with their husbands.

Mr Rehman pointed out that “there is no law in Pakistan against forced conversions” and sought a court decree in this regard.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmaker Ramesh Kumar, when invited to the rostrum, requested the court to issue directives to the government to amend laws about protection of minorities.

At this Chief Justice Minallah expressed displeasure, saying he felt embarrassed when parliamentarians expressed their inability to legislate.

He said the case was a simple one and could have been decided in a day or so, but a commission comprising eminent professionals and scholars had been constituted keeping in view its sensitivity and because “the court wanted to ensure this was not a forced conversion”.

The chief justice remarked that he constituted the commission to make sure that the rights of the minorities were not only protected but were also seen to be protected.

He pointed out that the commission had been constituted even after the girls had got their statements recorded by a learned magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, wherein they had unambiguously said they had converted and thereafter entered into respective marriage contracts out of free will.

Chief Justice Minallah observed that “in view of the above, the two petitioner sisters, who appear to be adults, would be at liberty to take their independent decisions.

“In case of security concerns, the petitioners shall approach the deputy commissioner, Islamabad Capital Territory, and in such an eventuality the latter is expected to fulfil his obligations.”

The court sought recommendations on the issue of forced conversion from the commission in four weeks and adjourned hearing till May 14.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019

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