December 02, 2016Print : Karachi
Welcoming the passage of a bill by the Sindh Assembly criminalising forced conversions, prominent human rights and civil society activists slammed the religious parties on Thursday for opposing the law.
In a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club, REAT Network head Krishen Sharma, Human Right Commission of Pakistan Sindh’s vice-chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt, Pakistan Hindu Council patron-in-chief Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research director Karamat Ali and rights activist Naghma Iqtidar congratulated the members of the Sindh Assembly and appreciated the efforts of Nand Kumar Golkani, a legislator of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, who belongs to the Hindu community and proposed the law a year ago.
“We, on the behalf of the civil society organisations , are also thankful to the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for supporting the bill in the assembly,” said Sharma.
Last week, the provincial assembly passed The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, making forced conversions punishable with a life sentence and forbidding minors from changing their religion, in a bid to protect minorities.
Sharma said the constitution had guaranteed equal rights and safety of all of its citizens, but unfortunately the condition of non-Muslim communities was worsening, forcing them to live in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.
“Religious minorities have been targeted through forced marriages to forced conversion [to Islam] and most of the affected are juveniles, especially girls,” he said.
“Why are only juvenile girls who ages ranging from 13 to 15 years converting to Islam? Why are adult men and women not?” questioned the HRCP’s Butt.
He said civil society organisations jointly condemned religious parties’ protest against the bill.
“Like forced marriage, forced conversions are also a violation of human rights and against the teachings of Islam,” Butt said.
Vankwani, who is also a member of the National Assembly of the PML-N, commended the PPP-led Sindh government for setting the minimum age for a religious conversion at 18. “In Pakistan, the government issues CNICs and driving licences and grants the right to vote at the age of 18,” he said. “Even, someone, according to the law, should be 18 for marriage.”
He said some religious groups and spiritual figures at some Darghas (shrines) had been involved in kidnapping young girls of the Hindu community in Sindh and forcibly marrying them off after converting them to Islam.
Piler’s Ali said forced conversions were a violation of international and national laws.
“Other provinces and federal government should follow in the footsteps of the Sindh government and pass such pro-religious minorities’ laws in their assemblies.” Iqtidar said the media should give positive coverage to issues of religious minorities.
The HRCP welcomed the law against forced conversions and urged the authorities to ensure its enforcement.
In a statement issued by Chairperson Zohra Yusuf, the human rights body said: “In adopting Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, the Sindh Assembly has responded to an oft-voiced concern of members of religious minority communities, especially Hindus, against forced conversion, mainly of girls and young women in the province.
“HRCP welcomes the adoption of the law, which makes forced conversion a crime with five years imprisonment and allows those who convert 21 days to reconsider. The effort to safeguard juveniles is particularly worthy of praise. We wish to emphasise, however, that nothing less was expected of the state in view of its obligation to guarantee fundamental rights of all citizens.”
The statement further said: “We hope and expect not just civil society organisations but also religious groups and parties to appreciate the legislation, because we are certain that even the latter do not have any interest in a person converting to Islam where the convert’s decision is swayed by anything other than a voluntary desire to choose the faith.
“We call upon the provincial government not to bow to pressure by some elements and ensure that the law is implemented and the citizens are protected from the practice of forced conversion.”