Forced conversions continue during Covid-19 outbreak

LAHORE: Where the world has come to a halt owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, with Pakistan too imposing nationwide lockdowns of varying degrees, the rights abuses in the country continue unabated. Among the abuses that persist in the country is the case of forced conversion of young girls to Islam.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which released its latest State of Human Rights 2019 report on April 30, underlined that on average over 1,000 cases of forced conversions take place in the country every year. A majority of these are suffered by the Hindu community in Sindh.

And so, despite the lockdowns, cases of abductions and attempted forced conversions continue to be reported by the Hindu community in the province.

Last month, a 14-year-old Hindu girl from ThariMirwah was married to 40-year-old Mohammad Aachar Darejo, who has been accused by the girl’s family of having abducted her. The same family has claimed that their younger daughter, 13, has also been abducted.

The family accuse brothers of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MNA Fazal Ali Shah of being behind the abduction.

“We are being persecuted. We aren’t being given justice. Brothers of Pir Fazal Shah have joined hands with Darejo to threaten us. They told us, ‘if you protest, we will abduct more girls’. Our community, the Hindu minority, is being targeted. We want justice – if not than take us out of Sindh and Pakistan, because we can’t stand so much persecution,” said the girls’ father. He also accuses the police of working at the behest of the powerful political family.

The family reveals that the police have taken them to various local courts, but the abducted girls were never brought there. They demand that the government take action and urge the state to ensure the safety of their abducted daughters.

The pirs of Ranipur, headed by Pir Bagan Shah Jeelani, have been accused in this case. Fazal Ali Shah, a cousin of Bagan Shah, holds political clout having been elected a member of the provincial and national assemblies on multiple occasions since 1997.

Critics and rights groups maintain that influential feudal families of Sindh are complicit in many cases of forced conversions in the province. However, their political power keeps them immune from any penalisation.

In addition to the abduction case from ThariMirwah, a Hindu family in Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony has said that they have been harassed by maulvis. A local resident Basant Maven Kumar was threatened with dire consequences if he did not accept Islam.

“My brother Basant was assaulted. My mother was attacked. After being assaulted, Basant was asked to recite the kalma. A few other maulvi hazraat were standing outside our home [at the time],” said Kumar’s brother, maintaining that the cleric had threatened to kill the members of the family.

“Furthermore, another maulvi in our neighbourhood, Shahid, has been organising [congregational] prayers on our rooftop when the mosques were closed. We never complained because we thought we live in a Muslim country, and this could become an issue,” he added.

Rights groups, including the HRCP, have long reported cases of religious persecution in Pakistan. In addition to forced conversions, the shrinking freedom to practice religion and express beliefs for the minorities has also been highlighted in the HRCP’s latest report.

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