A 2019 field investigation report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has reaffirmed an unpleasant reality that is already known for far too long—minorities in Pakistan live under constant fear of persecution as their perpetrators enjoy court sanctions, support from the influential and affluent section of the society and patronage from political leaders.
In May 2019, the fact-finding team of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan visited Ghotki district with the purpose of assessing complaints regarding the forced conversions of Hindu girls, with reference to the case of Reena and Raveena, two underage Hindu girls who disappeared from their homes in Daharki city and were later found to be married to Muslim men after being converted to Islam.
The Hindu community protested against the incident but the local police reportedly refused to file a complaint. An FIR was filed in the case only after heavy protest from the Hindu community and after the video of the two girls went viral on social media in which they claimed that they had converted to Islam and married two Muslim men from their locality.
The family of the two girls claimed that they were underage but the commission formed by the Islamabad High Court to ascertain the facts of the case found that the girls were of marriageable age. The Islamabad High Court ordered the Ghotki sisters to return back to their Muslim husbands Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali after two girls allegedly confessed in front of the court that they had willingly converted to Islam given they were impressed by the Islamic teachings.
A High Court bench led by Chief Justice of IHC Athar Minallah made the decision after a five-member commission had submitted the report, which was tasked to probe whether the conversion of the Hindu sisters to Islam was forced or otherwise. The High Court had also ordered earlier that the two sisters be shifted to a shelter home in Islamabad until the hearing was completed.
Against the backdrop of these developments, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan met with the Hindu residents of the Ghotki district and understand the apprehensions harboured by them. The leaders or the mukhis of the Hindu Panchayats of various districts admitted to being victims of the high-handedness of certain powerful groups and individuals. A majority of them complained that they faced some kind of discrimination from the ‘powerful’ or the ‘influentials’.
Pakistani Hindus admit they are victims of the high-handedness of certain powerful and influential people
The commission found that most Hindu residents who once lived here migrated to India after facing frequent cases of banditry and forcible seizures of their property. Many others who met the fact-finding team lamented that be it for political or religious issues, the support for the community when a case of forced conversion occurred was not forthcoming.
One of the leaders who met the Human Rights Commission said that Hindu girls were held in captivity for several days for seemingly piddly mistakes and testimony were coerced out of them after their conversion. It was also alleged by others that such girls were subjected to rapes and torture while in the custody of kidnappers. Even the courts, including the Supreme Court, they claimed, were unsympathetic to the predicament of the Hindu girls.
Some of the Hindu residents also bemoaned the dichotomy of Pakistan’s constitution of granting equality of citizens but not allowing non-Muslim residents from holding the highest positions in the state and government. They further added that properties belonging to Hindus were forcibly seized by powerful individuals and that there was always an ‘element of coercion’ involved in the conversion of Hindu girls to Islam.
Police officials, bureaucrats and authorities turn a blind eye to the atrocities meted out on Hindus: Human Rights Commission report
The brother of Reena and Raveena, Mr Shaman Das Meghwar, attended the meeting with the Human Rights Commission and stated how the administration and the police refused to act to their family’s complaint. He said neither the police nor the government had responded to their protests. The SSP only visited three days later, he said, adding that the NADRA office did not issue birth certificates for his sisters despite ten days of continuous efforts by the family. Instead, the SSP proceeded to whitewash the case of forced conversion of Reena and Raveena. He asserted that there was a willingness on the part of Hindu girls to choose Muslim boys.
Furthermore, the Commission of Human Rights found out that authorities in Pakistan were more concerned about Pakistan being maligned globally after cases of forced conversions came to the fore rather than providing justice to the victims of said atrocities.
Additionally, there was also general apprehension among minorities in Ghotka districts that Mian Mithoo was using his heft with the shrine of Bharchundi Sharif and frequenting cases of conversion of Hindu girls in the region. Mithoo was also present in the Islamabad High Court during the hearing of the Reena and Raveena case. The political patronage enjoyed by the culprits and the lack of action by the administration was also considered as one of the reasons behind the rampant conversions in the Ghotki district.
The Commission also found that the fear was so widespread among the Hindu community that many cases of forced conversions went unreported. The panchayats and the Hindu community were even reluctant to follow up cases of conversions that were previously reported, for the fear of retribution.
About 90 per cent of the cases of conversion were forced, the members of the Hindu community told the fact-finding team. While the conversions of Hindu girls were celebrated, but the conversion of Hindu boys was seen with disapproval and they were often forced into destitution. As the conversions continued to take place across the district, the administration officials and the police officers in the region were either involved in the act or remained mute spectators, the residents alleged.
Court sanction to the abductions and rampant forcible conversions of Hindu girls
The Hindu leaders also highlighted the Court sanction to the rampant forcible conversions taking place in their region. In this regard, they pointed out the case of one Rinkle Kumari who was allegedly kidnapped and married off to a Muslim man in 2012. They contended that the converted girl had at one stage expressed her desire to go with her mother but she was not allowed to do so.
The courts in Pakistan have consistently failed in providing justice for Hindus in Pakistan. In fact, in some cases, the courts have empowered the culprits responsible for abducting and forcibly converting the Hindu and Christian minorities. In the case of Reena and Raveena, the Supreme Court granted only 5 minutes for the mother to meet her daughters. The mother later reportedly said that both her daughters were continuously weeping and looked fearful. Similarly, in June 2020, a district magistrate allowed a Muslim man to keep his Hindu wife even after the parents of the girl alleged that their daughter was kidnapped and forcibly married off to the man.
Even Pakistan’s civil society turns a blind eye to the sufferings of the Hindu families whose daughters are abducted, forcibly converted and married off to older Muslim men. Most good lawyers hesitated in taking on such cases, fearing social ostracism, the residents lamented. The lack of access to legal counsel was also exacerbated by the fact that most of the Hindus in Pakistan lived in abject poverty, which severely hampered their ability to afford legal services.
Political patronage to conversions emboldened perpetrators and normalised violence and persecution of Hindus in Pakistan
The Commission found that the districts of Ghotki and Daharki were among the most affected by the scourge of rampant conversions was because they were business-oriented towns and were, therefore, accessible to trade routes and networks of madrassas. As a consequence, there was considerable political influence in these districts, which the victims said played a part in normalising and legitimising the unceasing incidents of abductions and conversions of Hindu girls in the region.
The perpetrators often tended to target non-Muslims and enjoyed political support due to the state’s economic interest in the local areas. The businesses of non-Muslims were also targeted if they went against Muslim residents for the kidnapping and conversion of their daughters into Islam.