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Pakistan’s Hindu Community criticises Religious Political Parties for opposing Minorities Bill, 2015, that Criminalises Forced Conversions

Conversion is a basic right as marriage is, but just like forced marriage, forced conversions are also a violation of human rights

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Pakistani Hindus Complain of Forced Conversion of Teenage Girls, VOA

Islamabad, November 30, 2016: Pakistan’s Hindu community has criticised religious political parties for opposing the Minorities Bill, 2015, that criminalises the forced conversions. The bill was recently passed by Sindh’s provincial assembly.

Pakistan Muslim League-N lawmaker Ramesh Kumar commended the Pakistan Peoples Party government in Sindh for setting the minimum age for religious conversion at 18.

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“People are issued a CNIC and driving licence at 18 and are allowed to vote after they are 18. In Sindh, the age at which someone can be legally married is also 18, because before that age an individual is considered a child,” Kumar was quoted by Dawn as saying.

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He said that girls belonging to religious minorities were kidnapped in Sindh and forcibly married, mostly to seminary students, and that they have no choice but to adapt to their new lives.

“After this law, conversions before the age of 18 will be considered a crime,” Kumar said.

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Members of the civil society said that the incidence of forced conversions was increasing across the country, particularly in Sindh, and that the bill will go a long way to help the minorities in Pakistan.

“Conversion is a basic right as marriage is, but just like forced marriage, forced conversions are also a violation of human rights, and is against the teachings of Islam as well,” said Krishan Sharma, Chairman of the REAT Network Pakistan (Rights of Expression, Assembly, Association and Thought Network).

Sharma said that Hindus in the region have historically converted to Islam or Christianity and that they have carried their family names after conversion as well.

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All the provinces should adopt similar laws to protect minorities from forced conversions and forced marriages, he said.

The two larger religious political parties, the Jamiat-e-Islam and the Jamiat Ulema Islam-F, are opposing the new law which was recently enacted in Sindh. They claim the law is part of a conspiracy to make Pakistan a liberal and secular country. (IANS)

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Military Dictatorship Always Halted Progress in Pakistan, says Pakistan Prime Minister

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Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. ians

Islamabad, October 14: Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Saturday said that military dictatorship always halted progress in the country.

Pakistan Prime Minister, who was in Karachi on a day-long visit, was speaking during the inauguration ceremony of the Pakistan International Bulk Terminal at Port Qasim.

Pakistan Prime Minister said that the people of Pakistan should decide who they want in the government and who they don’t.

“The masses have always elected political parties that have performed well for them,” he said adding that leaders who do not perform well should be sent home.

“But the process should be democratic and the people should decide,” stressed Abbasi.

Taking an apparent dig at the army chief for his remarks of the country being in “sky high” debt, the Pakistan Prime Minister said that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led government, in its four years, has made the economy stable.

According to him, the current government was successfully completing power projects, initiated by the previous government, along with the ones the ruling PML-N started.

“The previous government faced an energy crisis, our government has brought stability in the country and added 10,000 MWs to the national power grid,” Abbasi added.

The Pakistan International Bulk Terminal at Port Qasim was completed at a cost of $285 million early this year, according to a press statement, and has so far provided berths to 12 coal ships. It has been dredged to a depth of 13 metres and is capable of handling ships of up to 65,000 tonnes.(IANS)

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Forced Conversion of Hindus in Umerkot and Tharparkar Districts

The Hindu girls and women are constantly under threat from the Muslims

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Forced Conversion
Young Hindu girls and women are at great risk of forced religious conversions in Sindh province of Pakistan. Wikimedia
  • Thousands of young girls and women have been victims of forced conversion in Umerkot and Tharparkar districts
  • Forced conversions and Muslim men eloping with underage girls are frequent in the area
  • Rising fundamentalism in the region has led to such a situation

July 26, 2017: Many believe that religious identity is one of the strongest identity to categorize an individual. It strongly reflects one’s background and growing up. Hence, it is an aspect of life that most people hold dear to them. But forced conversion, a violation of basic human rights, is changing the person’s identity at their very core.

In the Umerkot and Tharparkar districts of Sindh province, Pakistan, there have been multiple incidents of forced conversion. Young Hindu girls and women have been forcibly converted to Islam. Many young girls have to give in to the impositions of the older Muslim men.

Particularly those girls belong to scheduled castes have been the victims. Recently, Ravita Meghwar’s case has caused the issue to come under the spotlight. Ravita, a 16-year-old girl, was abducted by a group of men who belong to an influential Muslim community in Tharparkar district. Pir Ayub Jan forcibly converted Ravita and married her off to one of the kidnappers.

This was the story that Ravita’s parents narrated. However, Ravita herself denied any such claims by her parents and told the court that it was her decision to run off. She made her decision of staying with her husband clear to the court.

Such stories have been emerging time and again in the Umerkot and Tharparkar districts, where a large number of Hindus reside. In fact, Tharparkar district’s population is 50% Hindu.

Historically, things have drastically changed today. The Hindu and Muslim community in Umerkot and especially Tharparkar district co-existed peacefully. The marriage between a Muslim man and Hindu woman was very acceptable among the community. But now, Tharparkar is like any other part of Pakistan that has become divided along religious lines.

[bctt tweet=”Men armed with guns abducted their daughters, Samjoo and Sonari, in the midnight of 15th January 2016.” username=”NewsGramdotcom”]

In November 2016, the Sindh Assembly had passed a bill against the practice of forced conversion. However, when some religious organizations threatened agitation and instability if the bill was to pass, the governor’s signature never made it to the proposed bill. Now with increasing cases of conversion, the urgency of the bill is in demand again. But to what extent it will be successfully passed remains to be seen.

Dawn reports that the Samaro tehsil’s Pir Ayub Jan Madrassah is responsible for the conversion of thousands of young girls and women. The Pir Ayub Jan’s younger brother proudly tells his tales of conversion but maintains that none of them have been forced.

Pir Ayub Jan is reportedly gathering support for a movement against the bill in Karachi. Simultaneously, reports have come to highlight the forced conversion of Hindus in the Southern Sindh region. The Sarhandi Shrine is a famous spot for mass conversions.

An activist, part of the local human rights organization, revealed to Dawn, “At least 25 conversions of young Hindu girls and women take place every month in Umerkot’s Kunri and Samaro talukas alone.”

Other activists have exposed that the deprived region is a miserable location for scheduled castes who “are powerless” in front of everyone. Many cases are often not even reported to the media. While mainstream media of the country reports that only 13 Hindus in Samaro district were converted from 2015-2016, the locals of the area say the numbers are much higher.

Dawn reported the story of Shiv Dhan and Mani. Men armed with guns abducted their daughters, Samjoo and Sonari, in the midnight of 15th January 2016. One of the men who went on to marry Sonari was the son of a rich landlord. In this case, too, Sonari claimed she willingly married the person while her parents refute such claims. They still haven’t got their daughter back. The parents also sat for protest but nothing was achieved. Their younger daughter, Samjoo, is back with them but they have not seen or spoken to Sonari since her abduction.

The other case of a Hindu man marrying a Muslim girl is very few. But that did not turn out well for the couple. The Hindu man, hailing from Umerkot district, worked in Karachi where he met a Pakhtun girl. The man changed his religion to Islam and brought the girl to his native place where they married. When the family of the girl found out, they paid a visit to the guy’s family and abducted the women of his family. The story ended with the women returning to their respective homes. The police managed to find the women and rescue them, and the Pakkhtun girl was returned to her family.

Forced Conversion
In the Northern and Central Sindh, rich and upper-class Hindus reside, however, in agrarian Hindu communities reside in the Southern Sindh. Wikimedia

If we closely inspect the Sindh region, the demographic divide is a major factor to any socio-religious issue. The Northern Sindh and the Central Sindh is where most of the rich and upper-class Hindus reside. Here, they have intense protection from the police and politics.

But Southern Sindh is where most Hindus of the entire Pakistan reside. They are mostly employed in the agricultural sector. This is the region where education and employment are often lacking for the Hindu communities. The Hindu girls and women are constantly under threat from the Muslims.

Human rights activists and campaigners in the region have highlighted many incidents where old Muslim men promise a life of luxury and leisure for young Hindu women. Although convincing is not a crime, but when it is done to young and underage girls it becomes a heinous crime. Minors’ consent does not account for a legal marriage.

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Patron in Chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council Dr. Ramesh Vankwani spoke to Dawn, “There is not even one case in which anyone has willingly converted. These men, who are often already married, kidnap the girls, keep them in their custody for 15 days, rape them, and through threats and intimidation, make the girls say they converted willingly”

These girls, once targetted, have little to no chance of escaping the situation. If she rejects the offer, she is at risk along with all her family members. Giving in to the offer means a forever goodbye to the family.

It has been strange that in a place where once two religions coexisted peacefully, such cases are on the rise. Dawn has remarkably identified the rising fundamentalism as a critical reason. Rising fundamentalism is leading to such rising cases.

Religious conversion is considered an important feature of religious fundamentalism. Mohammad Yaqoob, who is the head of Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia in Umerkot and Tharparkar districts, is also a head of the Madrassah that is trying to establish New Islamabad. He stated that families who come for the conversion are often given what they asked. Yaqoob also refused to speak against Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi. He also estimated that in the last 15 years, more than 9,000 conversions were carried out in the Madrassah.

ALSO READ: Pakistan Needs to End Sindhi Exploitation: Resolution by World Sindhi Congress

Lastly, few Hindus actually choose conversion. But it is not because of their allegiance to Shariah or Islam, it is their survival strategy. Poor Hindus, when converting to Islam, become beneficiaries of the Madrassah’s welfare and charity.

The rise of fundamentalism in the region has become increasingly evident. While the government ‘lacks money’ for education and infrastructure, the establishment of new Madrassahs has been easily funded.

The solution to the problem is not that simple either. Hindus can be at under immense threat of a social conflict breaks out. But forced conversions, a major violation of the human right, deserves focus from international human rights groups.

– by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)