A large number of Hindu community members, rights activists and parliamentarians of opposition parties gathered on Sunday outside the Karachi Press Club to express their anger at the alleged ‘forced conversions’ of Hindu girls in the province and reiterated their demand of the Sindh government to resurrect and pass the bill criminalising forced religious conversions and subsequent forced marriages.
The protest was organised by the ‘Stop Forced Conversions Action Committee’, a body of rights activists formed a few days back, to show concerns over abductions and forced conversions of two underage girls of the Hindu community from District Ghotki’s Daharki area.
The protesters carried banners and placards inscribed with slogans against alleged atrocities against the minority community in the province. They also chanted against religious extremists and those who were forcefully converting Hindu women to marry them.
Rights activists Karamat Ali, Birma Jesrani, Mahnaz Rahman, Uzma Noorani, Ross Mahtani, Seema Maheshwari, Nasir Mansoor, William Sadiq, Naghma Shaikh, Zulfiqar Halepoto and Dr Riaz Shaikh were prominent among the participants. The opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly, Firdous Shamim Naqvi, also took part in the protest.
Hindu parliamentarians who attended the protest included MNA Kheeal Das Kohistani of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, MPA Mangla Sharma of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and MPA Sanjay Gangwani of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
The speakers at the protest asked the Pakistan Peoples Party not to deprive the religious minorities of their rights simply to appease extremist groups. They demanded that the bill against forced conversion be resurrected and passed again, which was passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2016 but was not taken up again after the then governor returned it to the assembly without giving his consent.
The rights activists and parliamentarians lamented that cases of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages of teenage Hindu girls were on the rise across the province. Forced conversions were too easily and too often disguised as voluntary conversions, leaving minor girls especially vulnerable, they said.
The protesters alleged that the provincial government was afraid to take action against two spiritual figures Mian Mithoo and Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi over their alleged involvement in forced conversions.
The father and brother of the girls in videos circulating on social media said the two sisters were abducted and forced to change their religion from Hinduism to Islam. However, a separate video of the minor girls is also making rounds, in which they claimed to have accepted Islam of their own free will.
Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA Nand Kumar Goklani, who had initially moved the bill against forced conversions, said he would raise the issue of abductions and forced conversions of the two girls in the PA. He also demanded that the provincial government resurrect and pass the bill.
The previous Sindh Assembly had unanimously passed the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2015 to make forced conversions punishable with a life sentence and forbade minors from changing their religion. However, the situation took an unpleasant turn when many religious parties took to the streets against the proposed law and announced a movement against it, following which the governor returned the bill to the assembly.
“We demand that the government take up my bill and get it passed without any delay,” Goklani said.