No Country for Minorities

Sehyr Mirza Lahore

Enraged at the lack of safeguards available for the minority groups in Pakistan, human rights activists took to streets on Thursday to stage protests against the forced conversions of Hindu women.

Demonstrations against forced conversions were held in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Hyderabad and other parts of the country as well as abroad in New York, Houston and Toronto. The protesters, carrying banners and placards, raised a collective voice against Mian Mitho- a notorious religious cleric and political leader from Pakistan’s Sindh province- repeatedly accused for aiding the forced conversions of women from other religious groups to Islam.

The call for protest on August 11, was given by rights activist Kapil Dev, to coincide with the National Minorities Day in the country. "Mian Mithoo is a symbol of terror. He's a symbol of forced conversions … and Hindus from that area, they cannot even dare to utter a single word [against him]," Kapil Dev said in an interview with VOA News.

For the uninitiated, Pir Abdul Haq aka Mian Mithoo came into the limelight following the 2012 kidnapping and conversion of a Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari, who later testified in Pakistan’s Supreme Court that she married of her own free will. The Hindu community had accused Mithoo of coercing the girl into her testimony. Forced conversions of Hindus in the province of Sindh still remain a common complaint.

Activists in Lahore gathered at the Charing Cross on the Mall Road, calling on the government to immediately act against the abductions and enact legislation to protect the women. The protesters stated that as many as 1000 Hindu and Christian girls, most of them under the age of 18 and from low-income backgrounds, are forcibly converted to Islam, every year. According to the activists, there is no specific law that criminalizes forced conversions as a criminal offense with a corresponding punishment. Girls from minority groups are usually abducted, converted to Islam and married to the abductors without their informed consent. During the legal proceedings, the victim girls remain in the custody of the abductors and are allegedly threatened and brainwashed. The girls reappear in the courts mostly after a lapse of two months and testify before a magistrate that they converted and married wilfully after which the case is closed. Speaking at the protest, Amarnath Randawa of Hindu Sudhar Sabha, said “Forced conversions are bringing a bad name to the country. We have come together to raise awareness about the situation of minorities which has gone from bad to worse in the last seven decades as the numbers have unfortunately fallen from15% to a meagre 2 %. Many Hindu families have fled to India due to religious persecution.”

Condemning the intolerance against the minority groups, rights activist Aroon Kumar Kundani, asserted that the government is not willing to take action against the accused Mian Mithoo. “He is involved in several cases of forced conversions to Islam. No religion allows forced conversions yet the heinous practice continues, much to our dismay. The government is failing in its duty to protect the Hindus from attacks and to prevent forced conversions effective laws need to be enforced.”

According to Saeeda Diep, executive director of the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies, “Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11 speech called for equal rights for minorities. He said in his address to the Constituent Assembly that Pakistanis would be free to go their temples, mosques or any other place of worship. However, Pakistan has failed to protect its citizens. If the government cares about the well-being of the country, it must immediately take measures to protect the minority groups.”

She said it is rather unfortunate that minorities are marking the National Minorities Day as black day. “Most of the cases of forced conversions taking place in Sindh are reported by regional Sindhi newspapers. Why doesn’t the Pakistani mainstream electronic and print media highlight the issue of forced conversions?, she questioned, urging the media to focus on the issue to bring it to the concerned for legislative measures.