Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Where there is no place for minorities to live

Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Where there is no place for minorities to live

In Islamic republic of Pakistan, blasphemy law has been misused several times. Minorities such as Ahmadis, Barelvi are constantly targeted. The Hindu and Christian community in Pakistan face the challenge of forced conversion to Islam. Rimsha Masih was arrested in August 2013 in Islamabad after a Muslim cleric accused her of burning the Qur'an. Masih was held in the Adyala jail despite of being a juvenile. Later, it was found that the cleric had fabricated evidence and the case against the Masih was dropped. According to the human rights campaigners, the Pakistani police is often forced to register blasphemy cases against their wishes either to save the accused or their own officers from attack.

In 2014, a Christian was burnt alive in a brick kiln. In another incident, Shama Bibi, 24, and her husband Sajjad Maseeh, 27, were brutally murdered. Their legs were broken so they could not flee the mob and then they were locked inside a brick-making factory. A mob with at;east 1200 people surrounded the couple and burnt them alive.The killings were sparked by the mob's belief that the couple had desecrated a copy of the Koran. By the time the attack was over, only charred bones and the couple's discarded shoes remained.

While Pakistan was created as a Muslim state in 1947, the country's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said that religious minorities should have the freedom to live here and practice their faith. But today Pakistan's identity is that of an Islamic nationalist state, hardline religious groups are a formidable force, and religious minorities have little voice in society. As influential Islamic shrines and religious groups work to convert people to Islam, some Hindus are leaving their villages and moving to cities in Pakistan, or leaving Pakistan altogether and moving to India.

Lower-caste and low-income Hindus in Sindh toil on farmlands for powerful, rich landowners, sometimes in a form of economic servitude. They face social discrimination and are often cut off from the Hindu community at large. A 2015 report by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan argued that social, cultural, economic, and religious factors have combined with feudal power structures in rural areas to enable forcible conversions.

While Hindu activists and families allege that young girls are abducted, coerced into converting to Islam, and married off to Muslim men in an organised manner, the Muslim religious activists and leaders are defensive about conversions, believing that converting someone to Islam is a way of earning blessings. These conversions are often backed by powerful shrines, seminaries, and clerics, as well as local politicians. Seminaries and shrines protect the couple and say the girl willingly eloped, converted, and married.

This poses a challenge for lawyers and activists, who have to determine if these marriages are born of free will or are marked by threats and violence. And almost invariably, the girl's testimony that she exercised her right as an adult to marry settles the case, while her parents continue to insist thhat she is being pressured by the influential followers of the shrine to convert to Islam.

Forced conversions became a national talking point in 2012, when three Hindu girls were reported to have been forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men. Forced conversions have become a new form of violent extremism in Pakistan. A forced conversion is defined as being when any person uses pressure, force, duress or threat, to make another person adopt another religion. It affects almost all religious minority groups in Pakistan but Hindu teenage girls in the Sindh province are the main victims. There are no verified numbers but according to the NGO, South Asia Partnership Pakistan, at least 1,000 girls, mostly Hindus, are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year.

Conversion to Islam is a one-way process. Once a person becomes Muslim – forcibly or voluntarily – then going back will be an act of apostasy, which is punishable by death in Islam under penal law. There is no way for a person to go back due to an imminent danger of being killed.

The reporter has done analysis of English-language newspaper reports in Pakistan of forced conversions that occurred between January 2012 – just before the Kumari case – and June 2017. In total, it is found that there are 286 separate incidents of women and girls being forcibly converted. The actual number could be much higher as many cases of forced conversion are reported in local Urdu or Sindhi newspapers. As one journalist working on the issue in Pakistan told the reporter of this story, many cases in which influential locals and religious leaders are involved go unreported because of pressure put on the media not to report the stories.

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