Skip to main content

Pak pandemic of forced religious conversions: Dalit women 'pushed into bondage'

By Ajit Singh* 

The United Nations general assembly last month had astoundingly adopted a resolution, declaring an International day to be commemorated every year on March 15 for discouraging rampant Islamophobia in the world. In 2019 on the very same day, a neo-Nazi of Australian descent mercilessly gunned down 52 people in two different mosques located at Christchurch in New Zealand.
Pakistan along with member countries of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) proposed this draft and after official approval by the UN, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan praised the unity of Muslim Ummah whose consolidated efforts led to this historic day.
There's a stark contrast in what Pakistan preaches to the entire world about defending human rights of those who follow Islam and its own ignominious track record that exposes the failure of a state to guarantee even basic rights to minorities back at home.
Pooja Kumari was one of the innumerable victims of forced religious conversions in Pakistan who was gruesomely murdered by a lunatic after she resisted to marry and change her religion. In an ideologically bipolar world, profit and preference drives the disproportionate media coverage and it is evident by the fact that only few of the prominent news outlets cared to cover this story.
Nonetheless, forced conversions are a major cause of concern for the safety of women belonging to minority religions in Pakistan. Hue and cry, playcards and protest by rights groups have fallen on deaf ears of law makers and till now nothing substantial has been done to address the alarming crisis.
The Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a Lahore based think tank in its research report titled 'Justice Yet Afar' has revealed that in 2021, at least 78 cases of conversation were reported, this compared to the previous year saw an upsurge of 80 percent in unethical conversion of Hindu, Sikh and Christian women. 76 percent of the victims are found to be minors and further 33 percent are under 14 years of age. Though, it is just the tip of the iceberg because there are hundreds of forced conversions cases that never make the headlines due to the fragile state of law and order in the country.
Last year the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of Imran Khan out rightly rejected the demands of minority MNAs (Members of National Assembly) of his own party to consider a bill that proposed to fix a minimum age for marriage and advocated for stringent penal provisions to counter forced conversions.
The Minister of Religious Affairs while defending his government's action obnoxiously argued that "proposed law in this form conflicts with Islamic law and basic human and constitutional rights".
In the second largest province of Pakistan, Sindh, where the highest number of forced conversion cases have been reported, the provincial government of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has made few perfunctory attempts to tackle the menace of abduction. The Sindh Criminal law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2015 was tabled on the floor of the house and after much deliberation it was unanimously passed by the State Assembly in November 2016.
To minorities' dismay, the Governor of Sindh refused to give his final approval, on the orders of Asif Ali Zardari (Chairman of PPP) who asked him to not sign the bill and revert it back to the assembly. The party in power succumbed to the pressure of radical Islamist groups and religious clerics. Government's own constitutional advisory body, Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) expressed serious reservations regarding the practicality of the bill. 
The group warned that any effort to pass this act may lead to enduring repercussions and in case their demands were not met, they would mobilize a massive protest and lay siege in the assembly.
In Sindh, Pakistan People's Party has made few perfunctory attempts to tackle the menace of abduction
The bill, if made into a law, would be a stepping stone to secure the liberty of minority women. Previously no attempts were being made to properly define forced conversion, it was the first time ever the term had been contextualized in a legal framework. 
Other provisions included the establishment of statutory institutions to ensure smooth redressal of cases, sensitisation and awareness drives to train police personnels about how to confront such cases, sustainable judicial reforms and appropriate punitive measures to set deterrence.
In 2019 for the second time the diluted version of the previous bill was put for floor consideration after consulting the same religious clerics who earlier created the ruckus but nevertheless it failed to receive the majority votes in the Assembly. Due to the fear of losing popular support even the members of the progressive ruling party voted against the legislation as the false perception was propagated among the masses by ultra religious groups that the bill is against the Sharia law and bypasses the sacrosanct values enshrined in the Holy Quran.
Despite having ratified International Labour Organization  (ILO) convention on forced labour in1957, a large percentage of Hindu women in Pakistan especially in Sindh province belonging to the Scheduled Castes are forced into bonded labour. Since only a handful income sources are available and their exclusion from the country's operational banking system makes it nearly impossible for them to utilize the formal sources of credit.
They toil under miserable working conditions on the agricultural fields owned by modern feudal landlords just to repay debt and sustain family's livelihood. These women from lower socio-economic backgrounds have largely no access to judicial remedies and because of dismal political representation of Dalits in National or State legislature, they are most susceptible to religious conversions.
Pakistan must adopt a constitutionally guaranteed affirmative action plan that includes providing reservation and redistribution to ensure substantive equity in opportunities to persecuted communities in the field of employment, free quality education, distribution of government aid on priority basis and well thought schemes to improve maternal health among other concrete approaches.
But foremost it needs to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem and simultaneously work towards designing a comprehensive policy that can protect the rights of women from disadvantaged sections of society who easily fall prey to conversions and coercion due to lack of proper safeguard put in place.
---
Hobbyist writer, sophomore in Bachelor's in Education (BEd) programme

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Dalit scholar's comment on Lord Shiva 'harming' Muslims, 'damaging' secular cause

Shahid Siddiqui, Bobby Naqvi By Our Representative   Bobby Naqvi, who is with the "Gulf News", and is a well-known name among Muslim intellectuals, strongly objecting to the social media post of Prof Ratan Lal, has said that "a big reason for majoritarian hatred against Muslims is irresponsible remarks by people like Prof Ratan Lal of Delhi University." In a Facebook comment , which has attracted paise, among others, from journaliat-politician Shahid Siddiqui, Naqvi said, "Their commentary on Hinduism and icons of Hinduism (while angering religious and liberal Hindus alike) also triggers a massive backlash against Muslims. When the likes of Prof Lal criticize Hinduism on social media, Hindus bring Islam and Islamic practices and ask 'what about this' or 'what about that'." Naqvi insists, "Muslims (without their fault) and Islam get caught in this crossfire between the so called Hindu liberal class and the religious Hindus. And the ult

Why there's strong likelihood India may resurrect its presence in Afghan capital

By Anand K Sahay* Since India evacuated its mission in Afghanistan once the Taliban re-took Kabul last August practically under American aegis, following what came to be called the Taliban’s Doha “negotiations” with the US, New Delhi is evidently doing a re-think. It is considered likely that an Indian representation will soon be restored in Kabul, even if this will be small and not at the level of ambassador. This is reflective of realistic thinking. Of course, there can be no question at present of according recognition to the Taliban regime. That is likely to happen when a broad consensus amongst the leading powers emerges. Currently the Taliban government is not helping its own cause of gaining world recognition- which will help it access overseas funds at a time when the country is in dire straits- by imposing severe restrictions on women and girls in serious violation of human rights. More basic is the issue that the Taliban regime is not considered r

Message to 'high caste' attackers? Dalit leader's daughter rides elephant in wedding march

By Our Representative  In what has been termed as “jumbo celebration”, a Gujarat Dalit rights leader belonging to Saurashtra region ensured that his daughter rides an elephant as part of wedding celebrations which took place in Vadhwan town of Surendranagar district. Natubhai Parmar, who shot into prominence for organising a unique protest against the notorious Una flogging incident in 2016, in which five Dalit boys were flogged as they allegedly slaughtered a cow. Belonging to the Rohit community, whose traditionally live by skinning dead cows, in 2016, Parmar reached Surendranagar district collector’s office with vehicles full of carcasses of cows asking him to organise them disposal of, declaring, his community had decided not to continue with the caste occupation, as it had been termed cow slaughter by saffron vigilantes. The decision to make his daughter ride the elephant, which he brought to Ahmedabad, was to send a message to members of the dominant castes, whose aggressive atta

Govt of India 'ignores' GMO regulation, 'overlooks' Constitutional process

Counterview Desk Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi, independent public policy expert, in a letter to Nareshpal Gangwar, additional secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), New Delhi, has expressed “seriously concern” that a recent office memorandum (OM) has sought to exempt certain types of gene-edited plants from the country's genetically modified organism  (GMO) regulations, without any reason or basis or representation. Dr Reddy regretted, “Such a serious decision, with an impact scale of unimaginable proportions, in terms of time and ecology, is being pushed through an ordinary office memorandum”, insisting, “This is circumvention of the processes enshrined in Indian Constitution, which has defined democratic participation in matters of critical importance.” Stating that the exemption from regulation is a policy decision and has legal implications, he demanded immediate withdrawal the OM, insisting, the government should take a "strong stand again

Govt of India 'compromising' on mandate to regulate gene technologies, protect nature

Counterview Desk  In a letter sent to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and other related ministries and departments, the Coalition for a GM-Free India has raised "serious concern" over the guidelines notified for Genome Edited Organisms, in which major exemptions from regulations have been offered to certain categories of Genome Edited Organisms/Plants and products. A letter signed by Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Kapil Shah, co-convenors of the NGO network, addressed to Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, said, the Office Memorandum, dated May 17, 2022 of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology about Safety Assessment Guidelines, which follows the Office Memorandum dated March 30, 2022 of the MoEFCC, said, the move "essentially amounts to entry of risky GMOs through the backdoor. Text : Coalition for a  GM-Free India is a national volunteer-driven platform of hundre