The Unfortunate Forced Conversions

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Intolerance towards religious minorities has unfortunately proliferated in Pakistan in recent years, especially in the province of Sindh where Hinduism is majorly practiced. The intolerant attitude of a specific group is evident from the increasing number of the abduction of minority girls, and conversions through forceful marriages. The alleged abduction of Reena and Raveena is one of the many instances of forced conversion in Sindh. The religious intolerance in the country tells us a lot about the predominant discourse on religious minorities in mainstream media, and in textbooks. The general public seems to have little to no knowledge about the history of Hindus and other religious minorities in the country. The lack of knowledge may not be the prime reason behind intolerance towards religious minorities, but it has a big hand in perpetuating intolerance and violence towards religious minorities.

From what it seems from the increasing violent acts, there is a misunderstanding about the history of the province, and the Hindus residing in Sindh. The history of Hindus in Sindh dates back to the time before Arab invasion in the subcontinent. We, as a nation, have read a lot about Indus River or Darya e Sindh, but only a few about the fact that Sindh is a Sanskrit word. Similarly, many aspects of Sindhi culture are an offshoot of the history of Hinduism in the region. During the partition, Punjab and Bengal were divided, but Sindh remained in one side of the border and so did the majority of Hindus living in the area. Technically, Hindus in Sindh are Pakistani Hindus, and their first language is Sindhi. There is a lot of confusion concerning Hindus living in Sindh. Due to this reason, the treatment of Hindus in Sindh is mostly framed in opposition to India’s treatment of Muslim minorities in India.

While discussing the history of Muslims in the subcontinent, our textbooks neglect the best chunk of the history by omitting the parts where Hindus and Muslims worked and lived peacefully together. The textbooks mainly highlight the social and cultural differences of the religions, but no efforts are made to discuss the shared history. Before the British colonial intervention, Muslims and Hindus in the subcontinent were an epitome of religious harmony. They fought side by side under each other’s command in 1857 against the colonial oppressors. Terrified by their harmony in the country, the British wisely implemented divide and rule policy to accommodate and facilitate the colonial rule in the subcontinent. This eventually came to its culmination in 1947, but the scars that now have created never-ending difference are still evident in both sides of the border. Muslims in India are a victim of antagonism and so are some Hindus in Pakistan.

Amidst all the incidences of intolerant activities, the village of Mithi gives us the hope of peace and harmony among Muslims and other religious minorities in Pakistan. Apparently, Mithi is a village where Hindus fast during Ramadan and Muslims don’t slaughter cows. Around 80% of the population in the village is Hindu. Not only Hindus fast in Ramadan out of respect, but they also do not organize celebrations in the holy month. Hindus and Muslims in Mithi are known for participating in each other’s festivals and exchanging gifts in occasions like Eid and Diwali.  According to locals in the village, Muslims do not use the loudspeaker for Azaan when Hindus are worshipping and Hindus do not use bells when Muslims are praying. Mithi is just one of the examples of many tolerant towns in Sindh. However, this positive attitude towards minorities should be practiced in other parts of the country.

Nand Kumari Goklani in 2015 proposed Sindh Criminal Law, which criminalized forced conversion in the province. However, the government, later on, refused to ratify it. The recent events point towards the formulation of a law on forceful conversions. As an Islamic state, we ought to work to protect the rights of the religious minorities in the country. The goal for a tolerant and harmonious country could only be achieved if we all wholeheartedly embrace the life of religious minorities in the country. The government of Sindh, where the instances of forced conversions are much higher, should make serious effort to pass The Sindh Criminal Law to protect the rights of the religious minorities.

The Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of religion, and as citizens of Pakistan, we are all obligated to abide by the law. The Government of Pakistan should actively participate in formulating policies that promise protection to religious minorities. The government should also ensure that the religious minorities have access to education, jobs and are able to participate in politics by passing an anti-religious discrimination law. Apart from that, the government can also establish provincial commissions for minorities who will look after the protection of the rights of religious minorities.

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Hatoon Gul is a Turbat based YES alumna studying Social Development and Policy at Habib University, Karachi.

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