Families await answers after alleged forced conversions in Pakistan
Government orders investigation into reports of kidnappings in Sindh province
Holi festival is a joyful day for Hindus worldwide, but for the Meghwar family in Pakistan’s Sindh province this year’s was a day of sorrow.
On Thursday, as Hindus were celebrating the festival of colour, the Meghwar family and more than 100 Hindus were blocking a road in Ghotki district, demanding that authorities respond to the apparent abduction of 13-year-old Reena and 15-year-old Raveena.
“About 5pm on March 21, six armed persons entered our home and took away my sisters at gunpoint,” Shaman Das, the brother of Reena and Raveena Meghwar told The National.
The family filed a complaint with the police but Shaman Das said they were ignored by authorities. “Finally we got the news that my sisters had been forcibly converted to Islam.”
However, Pakistani police said they had registered a complaint of kidnapping and robbery by the teenagers' parents and that arrests could be made on Monday, Reuters reported.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered an investigation into the matter, according to the government.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the country was "totally behind the girls".
The conversion of religious minorities is a fraught issue likely to ignite inter-communal tensions in Pakistan.
Hindus and Christians each represent about 1.6 per cent of the 208 million population in Muslim majority Pakistan.
The Sindh Assembly passed a bill against forced conversions in November 2016. But the governor, under pressure from religious groups, did not sign it into law.
When there are questions of consent in conversions, Pakistani law tends to rely on the recitation of faith of the recently converted, either in court or in video testimony.
Two days after the Meghwar sisters disappeared from their village, Daharki, a video was posted online showing the girls sitting with two men in a tense press conference in Punjab province, about 150 kilometres to the south.
An unidentified man announced the girls had embraced Islam of their own free will and had married the two men sitting next to them.
“I ask the authorities how did these minors reach Punjab?” Shaman Das said. “This is forced conversion of my minor sisters.”
For some Hindus, who in Pakistan are an often impoverished minority, conversion can offer a route out of extreme poverty. Muhammad Javed, a former Hindu from Umerkot, says he converted after a madrassa helped his family repay debt. “I embraced Islam. They paid our loans which my family had taken from a wealthy landowner,” he said. “We also get medical allowances.”
When India attacked Pakistan in 1971, some in Pakistan saw Hindus as complicit in allowing India to occupy parts of the province, leaving a legacy of resentment towards the province’s Hindu minority.
India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that she had asked the country's high commissioner in Islamabad to send a report on a news article on the allegations, it was reported on Monday.
Updated: March 26, 2019 11:15 AM