Forced conversions

21 Oct 2020

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THE findings of a parliamentary committee on forced religious conversions adds an interesting aspect to the discourse around the controversial issue. The committee appears to have done a relatively thorough job of unfolding the layers of how and why forced conversions take place, but some findings tend to oversimplify the social, economic and religious persecution faced by minority communities in the country. To investigate the matter, the committee members travelled to Sukkur and Mirpur Mathelo where they held public meetings with around 1,000 families, and also met stakeholders in Karachi. The committee members, who include an MNA and an activist from the Hindu community, categorically said that the government had failed in its responsibility to shield minority communities from forced conversion. Though they denounced all manner of religious conversion under social or economic duress, they stopped short of calling these conversions forced. Instead, they described it as exploitation, calling them “procedural forced conversions” — conversion as an effect of the social, administrative and economic marginalisation of the Hindu community in Sindh. Citing the reason for not calling these conversions forced, Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar, who heads the committee, said the review of cases did not reveal any incident of illegal confinement of Hindu girls who testified in court.

Though the committee rightly identified social and economic marginalisation as the reason why some girls willingly convert, to put all incidents of forced conversions under this category is unfair and insensitive. Considering that a large number of girls involved are under the legal age of marriage, their ‘willingness’ — coerced or otherwise — should not be the determining factor where conversions are concerned. Meanwhile, there should be shelters for young women from minority communities who have reached the legal age of marriage and who want to tie the knot outside their faith. The findings should be considered a rough draft for further investigation into a sensitive matter that has the potential to split communities and make girls vulnerable to pressures.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020