Lawmakers’ body discusses minorities’ rights bill, forced conversion

Published October 9, 2020
The major issues of minority communities were identified as forced conversion and kidnapping of girls and women. — AFP/File
The major issues of minority communities were identified as forced conversion and kidnapping of girls and women. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Several members of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions as well as representatives of minority communities of Sindh from Ghotki, Sukkur and Hyderabad met at the Sindh Secretariat on Thursday to discuss the Sindh Minorities Rights Commission Bill.

The major issues of minority communities were identified as forced conversion and kidnapping of minority girls and women at the top of the list followed by the need for implementation of five per cent quota reserved for minorities in government jobs, inclusion of religious books of minorities in curriculum, provision of security to sensitive minorities’ religious places, registration of minorities’ religious places and their maintenance and improvement of the social and economic conditions of minorities.

Forced conversion is one of the burning issues of minorities.

During 2020, six controversial cases of alleged adoption and forced conversion of Hindu girls were reported. Mehak and Lata Kumari were kidnapped in Jacobabad, Sormi and Shanti were kidnapped in Tharparkar, Simran went missing from Pano Akil and Parsha Kumari was kidnapped in Khairpur. The cases of abduction were proceeded in courts of law, and the girls were said to have wilfully solemnised marriage in accordance with Shariah law.

Bill will provide a platform to look into various grievances of minority communities

It was explained that the Sindh government was fully committed to protecting the fundamental rights of minorities as provided in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan under Article-25, and that several steps had already been taken to stop forced conversions and kidnapping of minorities’ girls and women. The Sindh Hindus Marriage (Amendment) Act of 2018 is included in these steps to control such incidents followed by other bills and acts that have been introduced for legislation such as the Sindh Minorities Rights Commission Bill of 2019 and the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill of 2019.

The Sindh Minorities Rights Commission Bill will provide a platform to look into various grievances of minority communities as well as to lay down mechanisms for promotion and protection of identity of minorities at the provincial level. The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill was introduced to recognise the rights of freedom of religion of all persons as well as to restrict forced conversion. Both these bills are currently under process in the law department for legislation, and were hence under discussion at the meeting.

While appreciating the bills moved already, Senator Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions, said that while their mandate focussed on stopping forced conversions, there were still other issues concerning minorities that they were also not shying away from and that there was always room for improvement everywhere and therefore, they also wanted to hear from representatives of minority communities.

He said that whoever was behind forced conversions was not Muslim as Islam does not allow forced conversion.

“However, wilful conversion is another matter,” he said, adding that when there was a marriage contract between people of different religions it also gives way to issues of society and the parents of the individuals.

He also asked that if a girl, who may be over 18 years of age, leaves her home why does she feel threatened and why does she seek help from politicians. Why are the state’s institutions not being able to give her confidence to approach them for helping her out? “The Quaid-i-Azam’s speech of August 11, 1947 is important here. It is our responsibility to not allow compromise on the dignity of the minorities. We are not turning away from Shariah in doing so,” he said.

“There have been suggestions about age determination of these girls who are said to be forcefully converted. But age doesn’t really address the issue here. When a Muslim girl goes into nikah in the presence of a wali or guardian, then why doesn’t a girl from a minority have a wali by her side when she is going into the contract of marriage?” He questioned.

Federal Minister for Religious and Inter-faith Harmony MNA Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said that they did not deny incidence of forced conversions, but there might be some exaggeration here of what was actually happening.

“There are very few cases of forced conversions in Punjab and there are none in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. What is happening in Sindh, specifically what is happening in Sindh with the Hindu community?” He asked.

“We bring religion into everything. But our religion is against forceful conversions. The issue here is the non-implementation of laws to stop such wrongdoing. Awareness is also needed regarding the issue of forced conversions,” he said.

Dr Sikandar Mandhro said that they already had laws for kidnapping and abduction cases and a marriage law. “Now we need to be clear about forced conversions. We need a specific law for preventing it. It should be a law that all stakeholders would agree with,” he said.

MNA Dr Darshan also added that the law should be such that it should be respected by all. He also reminded that the country’s image was tarnished internationally due to incidents of forced conversions here.

MPA from Sindh Nand Kumar Goplani said that bill looks like a shortcut document to him. “Some 80 per cent of the original bill of 2016 is not there.” He also asked for the inclusion of members of the minority community in lawmaking.

MNA Naveed Aamir Jeeva pointed out that Sindh’s data on forced conversion was missing the cases of Christian girls. “I suggest you get your data from Nadra. It will give you the real picture of forced conversions,” he said.

MNA Kesoo Mal Kheeal Das Kohistani said that he did not see the seriousness in the Sindh government that was needed to deal with the situation. “Things here are being taken very lightly by the law enforcement agencies too,” he said, adding that there was also a need for changing mind-set here.

The Chief Minister’s Adviser on Law Barrister Murtaza Wahab said forced conversions were not only wrong religiously, but also ethically. “Such force is not acceptable. And that is why this legislation is sent to the chief minister. But even though it carried a political consensus, it didn’t sit well with religious scholars, which caused a problem with the bill,” he said.

“Then even if there is a set law against the practice in Sindh, what happens when these girls are taken to Islamabad or Punjab? There is no such law there, and thus these places are out of our jurisdiction. The marriage age for girls is also different there,” he pointed out.

‘Need for national consensus’

“Therefore there is a need for national consensus here,” he added.

Earlier, the meeting was also apprised of the initiatives taken by the Minorities Affairs Department such as provision of financial grants for the poor, needy and deserving people of minority communities in Sindh, Annual Development Programme (ADP) schemes for their benefit, establishment of grievance/facilitation desks at the divisional level, provision of protection of religious places of minorities, legislation, etc.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020


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