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October 5, 2020

Minority rights

Editorial

 
October 5, 2020

Every few months, some story or the other reminds us of the very real and very dangerous problem of forced conversions and our general treatment of religious minorities in the country. Now, in what will hopefully bring some attention and solutions to the state of the Hindu community, which is the main victim of this issue, a Senate panel has this week planned to hold a series of briefings on forced conversions, specifically among the Hindu community. Sindh has seen a series of cases of forced conversions, none of which are resolved to the satisfaction of rights defenders. The generally blasé attitude in a province – in fact, a whole country – where forced conversions are alarmingly unresolved shows how little attention is paid to the rights of minorities. Even leaving aside the fact that it is doubtful those of minor age are capable of freely changing their religion, is there any doubt that the concerns of the parents would not have been swept away immediately had they not been poor and Hindu? The reason so many Hindu girls are forcibly converted is because of the complicity of local police and lawmakers.

It is time the Sindh government and the federal government took the rights of minorities seriously. The Sindh Assembly had even unanimously passed a bill a few years back that would have placed an age limit of conversions but later withdrew it under pressure from religious parties. Had it not backtracked on the law, the problem we face now may have been eased to a large degree. How are we in Pakistan in any position to lecture anyone on the treatment of minorities, when the initial reaction to the kidnapping and forced conversion of underage Hindu girls is to claim they decided to convert themselves? No one ever thinks to ask why the only children who happen to convert are girls, and not boys.

We need to look at ourselves and decide if this is the kind of discriminatory society we want to maintain going forward. All citizens of the country are to be treated as one. This is what the law, the constitution and basic humanity state. If we fail to protect all the men and women, girls and boys, of this country we will only convince the minorities of the country that there is nowhere for them to turn to, nothing for them to do and leave them only to watch in agony as more and more violence is inflicted on them. Already, thousands of Hindus from Sindh have migrated to India. This is a disgrace. Any law that can protect young women from being held against their will or married off to men often far older than them would be a welcome step forward. But more than that, a shift in societal thinking is needed to safeguard the rights of minorities in the country.