KARACHI: Over the past week, the hashtag #SindhRejectsForcedConversions has been trending in Pakistan. The hashtag, which was initiated by the Twitter users largely encompassing the youth of Sindh, aims to generate awareness of an increasing number of Hindu girls being targeted and forcibly converted to Islam in the province.
Multiple cases of forced conversions have been reported in Sindhi dailies in recent weeks. In the last week alone, 15-year-old Suntara Kohli, 19-year-old Bhagwanti Kohli, 19-year-old Aisha Megwad and 24-year-old Priyanka Kumari became high profile cases of forced conversion in the province.
Armed men abducted Suntara, daughter of Rai Singh Kohli from Rais Nehal Khan in Mirpur Khas. Bhagwanti Kohli, kidnapped from Mirpur Khas’s Haji Saeed Burgadi village, was already married according to her family but still has been forcibly converted. Bhagwanti’s family has been given the certificate of her conversion, which the family members have shared with the local police station. They demand that the daughter be returned to them, maintaining that she was converted against her will. The family has also launched a protest outside the police station, which has been shared on social media, with the hashtag #SindhRejectsForcedConversions being used to spread more awareness about the cases.
On Tuesday, Aisha, daughter of Krishan Megwad, was also kidnapped from Mirpur Khas. According to Sindhi daily Pahenji Akhbar, Aisha was converted at Ayoub Jan Sarhandi dargah in the Mirwah Gorchani area.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, armed Muslim youths attacked Priyanka Kumari’s family in Shah Latif Colony of Sindh’s Nayan Kot area. Kumara was kidnapped at gunpoint, with the family claiming that one Kaleem Allah, along with his accomplices, was behind the abduction.
These are the latest in a string of cases targeting non-Muslim communities in Pakistan, with Sindh’s Hindus, in particular, being the most frequent target.
In April, the forced conversion of a 14-year-old Hindu girl from Thari Mirwah and marriage to 40-year-old Mohammad Aachar Darejo, was globally reported. The Thari Mirwah family had two of their daughters abducted within days.
Many rights groups and activists see forced conversions as part of the broader persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. The Hindu community, mostly present in Sindh, has been victimised in the province.
Last month, a Hindu family from Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony maintained that clerics joined hands to threaten them with dire consequences if they did not embrace Islam.
Similarly, a video showing Hindu community members protesting against members of the Tablighi Jamaat, alleging them of orchestrating forced conversions in interior Sindh, went viral last month.
The chief of Pakistan Hindu Council and currently a member of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, has tabled bills to curb forced conversions. However, those bills have been struck down so far.
“The [National Commission for Minorities] should order an inquiry into [forced conversion cases], as the Hindu community for long has protested against forced conversions in Sindh,” he said.
The recently formed National Commission for Minorities last month discussed forced conversions, among other issues. Chairman of the Commission, Chela Ram Kewalani, has vowed to address issues of the religious minorities.
“The followers of all religions living in Pakistan are first and foremost Pakistanis,” Kewalani maintains. Vankwani, meanwhile, urges constitutional cover for the minorities’ commission.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been ruling Sindh for 12 years straight, has been accused of not doing enough to curtail forced conversions in Sindh.
“We will always prosecute those who do this in the name of religion. I am sure the Sindh government is on it and tries hard to penalise such actions. This is why Mian Mithoo was expelled from the PPP. Zero tolerance for forced conversions. Enforcing this is not easy but it must be done,” said PPP Senator Sherry Rehman.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) regularly reports cases of religious persecution in Pakistan. In its latest State of Human Rights report, published on April 30, the HRCP unveiled that average over 1,000 forced cases take place in Pakistan annually.