Is the government shying away from resolving the issue of forced conversions?
The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, claims to have ‘debunked’ the impression that girls from the minority Hindu community are being forced to convert to Islam in Sindh.
“There is no evidence to suggest that non-Muslims, including underage girls, have been forcibly converted to Islam in Sindh,” states an IPS researcher.
A research conclusion is best answered with further research but one wonders if we are shying away from the reality? Do we simply not want to talk about what’s happening around us? If there have been no abductions and forced conversions why have people been going to police and the courts?
Senator Farhatullah Babar tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that the issue of forced conversions is quite serious. He says the parliament must make laws to deal with it promptly.
“This problem has not been exaggerated. There should be a debate on the topic. We need to provide a sense of security and protection to our minorities. We live in a country where the privileged and some militants get away with the law but the poor get the harshest punishments.
“In my opinion, the forced conversions issue should be taken seriously. I am appalled to see the role the Council of Islami Ideology (CII) has played. I mean, they (CII) should have first submitted their overdue reports.
“Forced conversions are a human rights issue. The draft bill should therefore have been sent to the Human Rights Ministry and not the the Ministry of Religious Affairs,” Farhatullah Babar says.
It is pertinent to note that a parliamentary committee rejected the draft bill after the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) opposed it. Lawmakers from minority communities, including Ramesh Kumar and Lal Chand of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, have protested against the decision.
The opposition to the draft bill appears to have been more on account of pragmatic reasons than religious belief. One must respect all points of view but there is a real issue on the ground.
The opposition has targetted the idea of specifying a minimum age and the mandatory three months review for embracing Islam. The provisions have been called ‘un-Islamic’.
Farhatullah Babar explains, “I agree that more than ninety percent cases of forced conversion claims have not been established in the courts. This is an area the legislators need to work on. Sometimes the police do not include the relevant clauses at the time of registering a complaint. The powerful have been getting away too easily.
“The criminal justice system in Pakistan is broken. With this broken system, you can’t provide justice to the poor,” he adds.
The Ruet-i-Hilal Committee chairman Maulana Abdul Khabeer Azad his strong views on forced conversions legislation. “I spend a lot of time with people of other religions in our country. The forced conversions complaints are mere propaganda to malign Pakistan.
“Who is a bigger champion of human rights than us? Take any unfortunate incident of vandalism or unfair treatment of minorities; from Karak to Rahim Yar Khan, the Muslims cleric have condemned the incidents and visited and supported the victim communities,” he says.
The Maulana says, “We are against any kind of mistreatment of our minorities. Like us, they are living peacefully in Pakistan. There have been a few incidents [of forced conversion]. I think the Council of Islamic Interest (CII) has done the right thing under the Islamic law. Such legislation [forced conversions bill] should not be brought to the parliament.”
Azad says such legislation creates chaos in the society.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has introduced state-level celebrations of Milad. Such initiatives must be highlighted. We should work to improve things in Pakistan and focus on positive developments,” he says.
Special Representative to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony and the Middle East Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi told a recent seminar in Islamabad that the shariah strictly prohibits forced conversions and forced marriages.
Referring to instances of forced conversion in Sindh, he said, tribal practices must not be confused with Islamic teachings.
Ahsrafi said the forced conversion reports were exaggerated. He said he had challenged a rights group to substantiate its claims and it had failed to do so.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Islam (JUIF) and Jamaat-i-Islami have rejected the bill.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore