Friday April 19, 2024

Conversion law

By Editorial Board
August 27, 2021

Forced conversions are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan but unfortunately, most of the people in Pakistan remain unaware or unconcerned of this major issue that religious minorities in Pakistan are facing. With an already uphill life in terms of economic opportunities in society, religious minorities are hard-pressed against multiple odds. Though Pakistan has international obligations to fulfil, these are seldom met in a satisfactory way. Now several clerics and religious scholars have objected to the draft of a bill prepared by the human rights ministry to prohibit forced conversions. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Religious Affairs called a meeting to discuss the new bill. Astonishingly, no member of any minority community was invited to this meeting, the detailed discussion at which has not been made public. How could the ministry forget to invite the primary stakeholders who bear the brunt of these forced conversions?

The minorities of Pakistan are the chief victims of conversion by force. Forced conversions leave deep scars on families which find themselves at the mercy of unfolding events without much succor from concerned authorities. For any draft bill to prevent forced conversions, it must have the approval and consent of the minorities who are directly affected by this. In Sindh, there have been numerous complaints of underage Hindu girls being made to marry and forcibly converted. The same is true of Christians and other minority groups across the country. Yet the issue of age, with the proposed bill stating that a conversion of religion be possible only after the age of 18, was reportedly opposed at the meeting.

The long period set out in the bill for a conversion to officially take place, with an application first to be submitted to a sessions judge is in many ways wise. The ‘instant’ conversions we have seen in the past raise many questions and doubts. They also anger communities. A conversion from one religion to another requires understanding and thought. It should therefore be considered over some weeks or months by the person choosing this route so that no doubts are left and the pros and cons can be carefully considered. But what is truly saddening is that the group most adversely affected by forced conversions was not even invited to give its view on the proposed bill. This in itself indicates what we think of religious minorities and their opinion. The details of the bill need to be discussed with all those concerned with its content and its implementation in the country so that their concerns can be taken into consideration. It is only logical that they should be able to participate in any discussion on a new law intended to protect their communities.