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Home   News   Forced conversions hike Pakistani minorities’ fears

Forced conversions hike Pakistani minorities’ fears

March 27th, 2012
Chaitra Shukla Panchami, Kaliyug Varsha 5114

LAHORE: It was barely 4am when 19-year-old Rinkal Kumari disappeared from her home in a small village of Sindh province. When her parents awoke they found only her slippers and a scarf outside the door.

A few hours later her father got a call telling him his daughter, a Hindu, had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim boy. Only days later, Seema Bibi, a Christian woman in the province of Punjab, was kidnapped along with her four children after her husband couldn’t repay a loan to a large landlord. Within hours, her husband was told his wife had converted to Islam and wouldn’t be coming home. Seema Bibi escaped, fled the village and has gone underground with her husband and children. Hindu and Christian representatives say forced conversions to Islam had become the latest weapon of extremists in what they called a growing campaign against religious minorities. The groups are increasingly wondering if they still have a place in Pakistan. “It is a conspiracy that Hindus and Christians and other minorities should leave Pakistan,” says Amar Lal, the lawyer representing Kumari in the Supreme Court. “As a minority, we feel more and more insecure. It is getting worse day by day.”

In the last four months, Lal said, 51 Hindu girls had been forcibly converted to Islam in Sindh, where most of Pakistan’s minority Hindu population lived. After Kumari disappeared from her home on February 24, Azra Fazal Pachuho, a lawmaker and the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, told parliament that Hindus in Sindh were under attack by extremists.

Kumari’s family has gone to the Supreme Court to get their daughter back. But the case is hotly contested by the Muslim family, who say Kumari’s conversion was voluntary. They say the couple had known each other and exchanged Facebook messages and phone calls before she converted and they married. On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered Kumari kept in a women’s shelter in Karachi until it resumed hearing the case on April 18.

“Christian and Hindu girls are targeted more and more,” says Father Emmanuel Yousaf, who heads the National Commission for Justice and Peace, an organisation born out of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference.

Yousaf said his group was helping Seema Bibi and a number of other Christians who had to leave their villages because of threats from extremists. Some of them were girls who were forcibly converted and others, he said, were falsely accused of acting against Islam or abusing the holy Quran.

There are dozens of cases of minorities being accused of insulting Islam under the country’s blasphemy laws. Often the cases are rooted in disputes with Muslim neighbours or as coercion to convert, and judges often feel intimidated by extremists into convicting accused blasphemers, said Yousaf. “They know where you live and where your children go to school,” he said.

Roughly five percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people belong to minority religions, which include Hindu, Christian and Ahmadis, according to the CIA World Factbook. Over recent years, violence against the minorities has increased, as Islamic hard-liners’ influence over the country has strengthened. In May 2010, gunmen rampaged through an Ahmadi place of worship in Lahore, killing 93. In February this year, gunmen stopped four buses, picked out those with Shia-sounding names and killed 18. Last year, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who criticised the blasphemy laws, was killed by his own bodyguard, and the government’s only Christian cabinet minister — also an opponent of the laws — was gunned down by militants.

“In Pakistan, one’s religious faith, or lack of one, has become sufficient to warrant execution and murder,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and peace activist wrote in a column earlier this month. Yet they rarely complained. “They sense security in being silent as disclosing it might bring shame on themselves and their family,” the report said.

Mohyuddin Ahmad, the information secretary for the Punjab government, says politicians and police are afraid. “If you are killed by a terrorist, no one will come for condolences,” he said.

Even incremental steps have to be taken slowly and silently so as not to ignite a firestorm by extremists, said Ahmad. The provincial government has quietly sought to increase women’s participation in the work force, he said. It requires that a third of the members on government corporations and boards be women; all government offices must have daycare centres; 15 percent of all government jobs have to go to women; free land given to the poor is shared 50/50 by husband and wife; and acid throwing on a woman is now a terrorist act. But incessant bickering among political parties, the judiciary, federal government and army has worked in favour of extremists, Ahmad said. ap

Source: Daily Times

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