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Sunday December 05, 2021

The unequal other

March 26, 2019

The sudden and unexplained disappearance of two teenage Hindu sisters, Reena and Raveena, on the eve of Holi, has brought some much-needed attention to the problem of forced conversions, forced underage marriage and our general treatment of religious minorities. Even as the parents of the girls were insisting that they had been kidnapped and taken to Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab, the Sindh IGP had dismissed the case and claimed that the girls had gotten married and converted of their own free will. Such a blasé attitude in a country where it is estimated that at least 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are forcibly converted each year – 25 percent of these conversions take place in the Umerkot district of Sindh – shows how little attention is paid to the rights of our minority communities. Even leaving aside the fact that it is doubtful that those of minor age are capable of freely changing their religion – or contracting marriage – is there any doubt that the concerns of the parents would not have been swept away immediately had they not been poor and from a minority community? This is of course not the first case of its kind. Another Hindu girl, Shania from Mirpurkhas, also suffered a similar situation a few weeks ago.

Over the years, many have pointed to the complicity of local law-enforcement and lawmakers in such cases. The Sindh police had to be forced into even investigating this kidnapping. Let us not forget also that the Sindh Assembly had even unanimously passed a bill – the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2015 – that would have placed an age limit of conversions, but later withdrew it under pressure from religious parties.

It took widespread national coverage of the kidnapping for Prime Minister Imran Khan to take notice of the problem and order Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to investigate the matter – since the girls had been taken to Punjab. Hypocrisy has abounded on the issue since then. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj sought details from the Indian envoy in Pakistan on the status of Reena and Raveena. This led to a back and forth between her and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry. The truth is that neither Pakistan nor India has shown any inclination of making minority rights a priority. We are in no position to lecture anyone on the treatment of minorities – not when the initial reaction to the kidnapping and alleged forced conversion and marriage of two underage Hindu girls was to claim they had done so of their own free will. Until we take concrete action to curb this menace, we have no right to boast about how equal rights are granted to all. Instead, we need to look at ourselves and decide if this is the kind of discriminatory society we want to maintain going forward.