25 conversions of young Hindu girls and women take place every month in Pakistan: Report

In January 2019, Anusha Kumari, a sixteen-year-old Hindu girl was abducted and forcefully married to a Muslim man. 

25 conversions of young Hindu girls and women take place every month in Pakistan: Report File photo

 The case of 2 Hindu girls from Sindh is one of many cases of forced conversion and marriage of underage Hindu girls to Muslim men, which are repeated in villages of districts of Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar and Umerkot in Sindh (close to Indian border) from time to time, many of which go unreported. These three districts Mirpurkhas (33% Hindus), Tharparkar (36% Hindus) and Umerkot (49% Hindus) contribute to the significant Hindu community in Sindh.

In January 2019, Anusha Kumari, a sixteen-year-old Hindu girl was abducted and forcefully married to a Muslim man. The High Commission has taken up this case with Pakistan. On June 07, 2017, 16-year-old Ravita Meghwar, an underage Hindu girl, was forcefully converted and married to a Muslim man. Ravita Meghwar's parents claimed that their daughter was abducted by men from influential Syed community in Tharparkar district and forcibly converted by Pir Ayub Jan at the Sarhandi shrine in Samaro and married off to one of her kidnapper Nawaz Ali Shah. Another case of forced conversion of a Hindu minority teacher was of Arti Kumari in Sindh to a Muslim man in September 2017. A minor Sikh girl Priya Kaur [aged 17] was kidnapped and married off [April 28- 29, 2017] to one Wajid Ali in Buner district of Khyber Pasthunaua and was forced to embrace Islam. 

The Indian government took up cases of intimidation of Sikhs and Hindus and also desecration of their places of worshipwith the Pakistan government in February 2019, June 2018 and December 2017.

A 2014 report from the Movement for Solidarity and Peace estimated that nearly 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. The report found that forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: Girls between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate. Normally, no cognizance is taken of such complaints. Even if a complaint is registered, during the conclusion of the case, abducted girls remain in custody of the abductors and suffer all kinds of abuse and violence. Such cases rarely end in the girls going back to their real families.

After the issue of forced conversions of underage Hindu girls in Sindh, social activists along with Hindu organizations pushed the Sindh Assembly to pass a bill against the practice in November 2016. But due to opposition from Muslim organizations, the Governor returned (January 2017) the Bill to Sindh Assembly, after that the bill is laying with the Sindh Assembly.

According to Pakistan media reports, Sarhandi shrine in Samaro in Umerkot and Barchundi Sharif in Mirpurkhas are active in religious conversions of Hindus and claimed to have converted thousands of Hindu girls and young women to Islam, mostly those belonging to Scheduled Castes – Bheel, Meghwar, Bhaagri and Kohli. Pir Waliullah Sarhandi at the Sarhandi shrine said, "When a young girl is brought before a Qazi for conversion to Islam, the Qazi must comply immediately, else he becomes Kafir".

The northern and central Sindh are mostly home to upper caste Hindu business families and most of them now shifted to Karachi. These rich Hindu families experience fewer cases of forced conversions of their daughters - in this case, the abductions mostly take place for ransom or property or to drive out them from the particular area. However, in the southern Sindh (Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Tharparkar) the Hindus are low-caste and are agro-based bonded labourers, who do not have any access to education, health and basic amenities and are called as 'Haris' working on the landholdings of Muslim Zamidaars. The daughters and women of 'Haris' are easy prey for the Muslim Zamidaars.

According to Pakistan social activists, at least 25 conversions of young Hindu girls and women take place every month in Kunri and Samaro Talukas of Umerkot. After the conversion, the girls, in most cases, are never again seen by their families. Before the conversion, the girls are kept 15-20 days in captivity where they are raped and intimidated to not to go back to their families after which Maulvies convert them to Islam. The girls, mostly due to social stigma and pregnancy, choose the lesser evil of living with the kidnapper. In most of the cases, the kidnappers also happen to be old-aged Zamidaars who look for young consorts and domestic help. 

The abducted girls and their children never get accepted by the families of Zamidaars and are given separate accommodation. According to local Hindus, in most of the cases, wealthy Muslim Zamidaars preyed on young girls and women.

With the increase in the activities of various madrassas of different Islamic denominations and Muslim charity organisations in Tharparkar, Umerkot and Mirpurkhas, efforts are also being made to convert Hindu families to Islam by offering them material inducement such as ration, livestock, housing etc.

In recent times, the issue of forced conversion has become a burning issue in this region. The main reasons could be attributed to increasing wave of fundamentalism in the form of rise in number of madrassas by various Islamic organizations preaching Salafi ideology such as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) (JUI-F) madrassa complex in New Islamabad, in Umerkot, Jamat-du-Dawa’s madrassas in Mithi in Tharparkar and presence of Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) in Tharparkar and the Salafi Ahle Hadith Movement and its political arm Jamait Ahle Hadith in Tharparkar and Badin districts.