ISLAMABAD: The chief justice was in a hurry for once. In just the second hearing on Wednesday of a case related to the conversion of three Hindu women, a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, wrapped up the case and announced its judgment.
The three young women present in the court were told to express their ‘true’ feelings about what they wanted to do and Sindh police were ordered to be their ‘protectors’ — ensure their safety and their happiness.
Police were asked to submit reports every fortnight about the wellbeing of the women.
The women did not utter a word during the proceedings. Later they were sent off to the registrar’s office to pour their hearts out.
In between, they were kept apart from their parents; they were taken to the registrar’s office from a different route so that no one would run into them.
The women recorded their statements before the registrar and decided to go with their husbands.
The judgment, however, did not go down well with the hapless parents. For the rest of the afternoon, the human tragedy that is the Hindu minority in Pakistan was played out on the steps of the Supreme Court building and outside as the families spoke to media and protested the verdict. Wednesday did not bring them the justice for which they had travelled from Sindh to Islamabad.
The women who appeared before the court under the watchful eyes of Sindh police were Rinkal Kumari, 19, (now known as Faryal Bibi) of Mirpur Mathelo, Dr Lata Kumari, 30, (Hafsa) of Jacobabad, and Aasha Devi, 19, (Haleema Bibi) of Jacobabad, who earlier was missing but surfaced voluntarily.
“We gave these girls sufficient time to think about their future and we will not force them. They are grown-up and are allowed to go wherever they want to go,” the chief justice observed. He said they were sui juris (one who has reached maturity and is no longer dependent) and, therefore, fully in a position to decide about the future.
“We feel they (the women) stayed in a pressure-free atmosphere at the Panah Shelter Home in Karachi where neither of the parties was allowed to meet them,” the court observed.
The order, however, generated instant commotion inside the courtroom, prompting the chief justice to ask the counsel for different parties to urge their clients to maintain discipline.
Frantic developments were seen soon after the announcement of the verdict. Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), called an emergent meeting to discuss implications of the verdict.
The PHC also filed a petition highlighting abduction of Hindu girls who were then forced to change their religion and married off to Muslim men. The court will take up the case after two weeks.
The disappointed parents of these women and members of the Hindu community, including parliamentarians from the ruling PPP, staged a sit-in outside the Supreme Court for some time and called for giving custody of the women to their parents.
“This is complete injustice in the name of Islam,” shouted Mohen, father of Aasha, outside the courtroom. He asked why the court did not take into consideration a demand by police for payment of Rs1.8 million for recovering the girl -- a demand which was raised to Rs3.5 million and then to Rs5 million. “From where we will fetch this kind of money.”
He said the Hindu community was being forced to leave Pakistan.
The mothers of the three women kept weeping and wailing outside the Supreme Court and alleged that the court had never allowed the girls to meet their parents.
Ramesh Lal, a PPP MNA from Larkana, said minorities had lost all hopes in the country’s judiciary and today justice had been buried forever. “Why the judiciary, which never tires of taking suo motu notices against the president and the prime minister, is not taking notice about police demanding money from the victim families to recover the girls,” he asked.
Noor Naz Agha, the counsel for Rinkal, however, welcomed the verdict and said the court had rightly accepted that being adult, the girls had a right to live their lives according to their choice.
But she held the absence of legislation responsible for the rising number of complaints about forced conversions and marriages. Mian Aslam, son of MNA Faqir Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitho, who was accused of abducting Rinkal, rejected the allegations, wondering “if we kidnapped her then why she was produced before the magistrate to record her will and later handed over to police”. He brushed aside an impression that the girls were converted to Islam forcibly.