Thursday July 18, 2024

Ending forced conversions

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
May 17, 2019

Finally, my point of view regarding forced conversions is getting endorsed by every corner of the country. Being patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council and a follower of Quaid-e-Azam as a role model, the focus of my peaceful struggle is always to ensure the protection of the rights of patriotic non-Muslim minorities. However, abductions, child marriages and forced conversions of patriotic minorities are becoming a norm.

Recently, in a highlighted case of two teenager sisters Reena and Ravina who converted from Hinduism, the Islamabad High Court constituted a commission comprising Dr Shireen Mazari, Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Ms Khawar Mumtaz, Dr Mehdi Hassan and I A Rehman, and Maj (r) Azam Suleman Khan.

On the directions of the honourable chief justice of the IHC, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and I submitted our reports separately on May 14, seeking solutions to end forced conversions and child marriages. It is a good sign that all sensible parliamentarians, regardless of their political affiliations, the civil society, media, and the public are currently on one page to curb this social crime which is not only increasing a sense of insecurity among patriotic vulnerable minorities but also giving a bad name to our beloved country.

The well-researched and detailed report on behalf of the commission constituted by Islamabad High Court disclosed that at least 300 such cases are being reported every year. The report also contained a list of forced conversions cases, highlighting that the vast majority of persons affected are girls aged 12-16 years of age

I believe that this is the right time for serious legislation against forced conversions and child marriages. The report submitted by the HRCP also endorsed my point of view that dual vote right should be given to non-Muslim minorities to elect genuine representatives in parliament through election, not selection.

In Sindh, the number of cases has been so high that a bill on forced conversions was passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2015. However, it was later withdrawn by the Sindh government.

Unlike controversial Bharchundi, all other widely-respected spiritual shrines, including Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Sachal Sarmast, Qalandar Lal Shahbaz are not involved in patronizing forced conversions. The HRCP report stated that, while suggesting an independent commission of minorities to deal specifically with such issues

The HRCP report also noted that the provincial government had not done much to address the issue. Therefore, the chief minister of Sindh must grant an interview appointment to the Hindu community in order to be acquainted with the grievances and plight of religious minorities.

Informing the honourable high court about my recently-tabled bills in the National Assembly, I recommended that specific courts must be notified to hear cases of forced conversion and t6hat, until such notifications are issued, courts of competent jurisdiction shall hear all such cases.

Moreover, the government must form a particular commission, committee or institution to oversee the effort to end this social crime. No person shall be deemed to have changed their religion until they attain the age of majority (18 years) is something I had emphasized in my 20-point recommendation report.

In case of alleged forced coercion of an adult, the court shall allow the alleged victim 21 days for an independent decision regarding conversion to a new religion before initiating a case of forced conversion. During this time period, he or she may be provided the opportunity to study comparative religions of he or she desires.

Upon completion of the time period, the victim shall record a statement before the court starting whether he or she has converted his or her religion with their own consent and will. “No report in any newspaper, magazine, news sheet or any mode of social media of any case or proceeding in any court in which a child or a person of unsound mind is involved, shall disclose the name, address or school or include any particulars calculated to lead directly or indirectly to the identification of any such child or person of unsound mind.”

It is good that the issue of forced conversions and child marriages is now being taken serious. I am quite hopeful that very soon we will succeed in ending this injustice forever.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani