The Hindu community in Sindh’s Umerkot district rose in protest over the alleged ‘forced conversion’ of a 16-year-old Hindu girl. As per the aggrieved members of Hindu community, the girl identified as Ravita Meghwar was abducted by Muslim miscreants from the Wanharo village near Nagarparkar on June 6. The girl was subsequently forced to ‘accept Islam’ and marry one Nawaz Ali Shah, they alleged.
Shah, her ‘husband’ appeared before journalists in Umerkot along with his wife Ravita, claiming that they have eloped with consent from the girl.
However, Ravita’s family denies this and has accused Shah of kidnapping her. “She was abducted from her house and forcibly married to a man twice her age,” said her father Satram alias Satio Meghwadh who lodged the FIR of the kidnapping at Nano Dandal police station in Nangarparkar, Tharparkar.
The FIR lodged under Section 365-B of Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with kidnapping to compel a woman to marry against her will, names four people: Shah (the husband), Madad Ali Shah, Umar Junejo and Sheru Junejo.
The family claims Ravita is underage based on a primary school certificate, which mentions her date of birth as July 14, 2001, making her about 16 years old.
Interestingly, the marriage registrar has mentioned Shah’s year of birth as 1980, and national identity card number on the marriage certificate, but Ravita’s age has been written as “approximately 18” and her NIC number not mentioned. Similarly, the certificate of conversion to Islam also does not mention her date of birth and NIC number, listing her age as “approximately 18.”
The Hindu locals have demanded police to act against Shah and his family members, and annul their marriage at the earliest. The protesters claim the Thar police, under whose jurisdiction Wanharo village falls, failed to pay heed to their complaints over the past 10 days.
Ravita’s brother-in-law, Lajpat Meghwadh, who married her elder sister on April 29 this year said:“My wife is barely 18 years old. How can her younger sister be an adult?”
Lajpat alleged that Ravita was kidnapped to force the Meghwadh family to leave the village.
“Our family has just four houses in the village. Some men from Syed and Junejo communities, who dominate the village population, kidnapped her and asked us to leave the village through some intermediaries,” he claimed.
Lajpat further said that Ravita didn’t use a cell phone and that she had remained restricted to the house after completing her primary education. “Unlike other women, she never left home to fetch water from the well or worked as a maid in anyone’s home,” he said.
Advocate Bhagwandas told sources that the Meghwadh family is also filing a petition in Sindh High Court against the marriage. He said the marriage was solemnised in violation of which was passed by Sindh Assembly in April 2014.
The law restricts the registration of marriages of people below 18 years of age. An offence under this act is cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable with a punishment of up to three years in jail for the groom, person solemnising such marriage and even the family of the man and woman tying the knot.
The issue would be raised in Pakistan National Assembly by ruling PML-N lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani. “A Hindu girl below 18 years of age cannot be converted according to the Hindu Marriage Act,” said Vankwani, who is also the chief Pakistan Hindu Council. Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013.
The Hindu protesters, to validate their claim of forced conversion, cited an FIR which was filed by Ravita at Dano Dhandal police station, months earlier, against her current husband Syed Nawaz Ali Shah and his relatives, Syed Noor Ali Shah, Mohammad Nohrio Junejo and Sher Ali Junejo.
The case of forced conversion in Sindh comes in the backdrop of severe allegations of rights’ violations levelled against Pakistan by Balochi and Sindhi activists at the United Nations’ 35th Human Rights Council.
Apart from concerns raised at UNHRC, the European Union Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday, demanding the Pakistan National Assembly to enact legislations which would prevent atrocities and oppression against the religious and sectarian minorities.
An appeal was made to amend the blasphemy laws which have been reportedly misused to execute members of the minority communities.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a United Nations System inter-governmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world.
The forced conversion bill, officially known as the ‘Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill’ was passed unanimously in November last year, following numerous complaints that people, especially children, belonging to non-Muslim communities, were being forced to convert to Islam.
However, the situation took an unpleasant turn when many religious parties took to the streets against the proposed law and announced a movement against it.
Maintaining its tradition of bowing down to pressure of religious parties, the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP),which had distributed sweets while calling the passing of the bill a ‘landmark achievement’, surrendered before the Jamaat-e-Islami when its chief, Sirajul Haq, called PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari.
Minutes after his call, the PPP-led government announced making amendments to the law, conveying a message to the then governor, Justice (retd) Saeeduzaman Siddiqui, not to ratify the bill.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who heads the Pakistan Hindu Council, said that they would have no objection if anyone converts to any other religion of their own free will. But, he said, it is intolerable and a cognisable offence if anyone is forcibly converted.
“How can a five-to nine-year-old Hindu girl accept Islam of her free will?” he questioned, saying that such actions are condemnable. “It will be a blunder if the PPP government, which claims to be the champion of minority rights, accepts these amendments.”
“Mostly minor girls of the Hindu community are forced to change their religion,” said Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PML-F) parliamentary leader Nand Kumar. “We can present dozens of such cases that happened in Ghotki, Jacobabad, Badin, Thar, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and other areas of Sindh.”