Hindu Today, Muslim Tomorrow: Forced conversions of Hindu girls in Pakistan

 Forced conversions of Hindu girls in Pakistan
Forced conversions of Hindu girls in Pakistan, recently two minor Hindu girls Reena and Raveena
were abducted and forcibly converted on the eve of Holi. Sindhi Sangat Sindh demands in strongest terms government must take immediate action against the kidnappers and their facilitators involved in the kidnapping and forced conversion of minor Hindu girls.

But in recent years, case after case involving Hindu girls converting to Islam has emerged in courts in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province, home to the majority of the country’s Hindus. The allegedly forcible nature of the conversions, the almost identical pattern of the cases, and the targeting of minor girls have deeply unsettled the Hindu population, which constitutes about 1 percent of Pakistan’s approximately 200 million people. 
This sense of alarm feeds into a broader reckoning: 70 years after the partition of the Indian subcontinent, some Hindus are reassessing their place in Pakistan.
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.
Pakistani brides sit during a mass wedding ceremony in Karachi
Pakistani Hindu brides sit during a mass forcible conversion to Islam and wedding ceremony in Karachi 
Cases of forced conversion are mostly reported from the Sindh province, as Meghwar’s was this year. Although Pakistan became a Muslim-majority state post-partition—with Muslims dominating politics, the economy, and society—Hindus managed to retain a degree of social influence in the Sindh province, where they were known as successful merchants. According to the most recently available census, more than 4 percent of Sindh’s population is Hindu.

But 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.

While Hindu activists and families allege that young girls are abducted, coerced into converting to Islam, and married off to Muslim men in an organized manner, 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.
In the absence of a law explicitly banning forced conversions, activists and lawyers are zeroing in on the cases of minor girls, using a different law that outlaws all marriage in Sindh below the age of 18. In the case of Meghwar, for example, Ali Palh, a lawyer associated with the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network, intervened on the grounds that her elopement violated the law on underage marriage. “The girl is underage and can’t make up her own mind,” Palh said.
At the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Hindus constituted 47% of the population in Sindh. Now they only make up about 4% of it. In recent years violence against Sindhi Hindus has escalated with attacks on their places of worship, extortion, and attacks on community members. Last month two Hindu brothers we shot and killed in the town of Mithi.
Young girls aren’t the only ones being targeted for conversion. Mass conversions of Hindu families are taking place in Sindh, and many are reported to be lower-caste Hindus. Seminaries and clerics offer money and housing to new Muslim converts; they issue press releases when they convert someone to Islam, believing this to be a considerable achievement.

Now, the spate of conversions to Islam is changing the way Hindus live in a province that has been their home for generations. Lajpat Meghwadh said that Hindu families, including his in-laws, are leaving their villages for other cities in Sindh. Accurate counts of the Hindus leaving their villages are difficult to come by; there is only anecdotal evidence. As for Hindus leaving Pakistan altogether and migrating to India, one estimate put the number at 5,000 per year. __THP


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