(Editorial Note- The views expressed in this article have been shared from an article published at The New York Times)
The lips of Hindus stumbled over Arabic phrases, as they performed the prayer rituals awkwardly. These phrases, once recited, would convert them to Islam for the rest of their lives. As the last words were recited, the men and boys were then circumcised. They are prepared to leave their many deities behind and worship their new, single god.
Many Hindu families were converted in June in the Badin locale of Sindh Province in southern Pakistan. Video recordings of the function were circulated around the web, across the nation, pleasing extreme Muslims and burdening Pakistan’s diminishing Hindu minority.
The mass ceremony was the most recent in what is a developing number of such conversions to Pakistan’s majority Muslim confidence lately. Although, the exact information is scant. A portion of these conversions are voluntary, and some not.
Media sources in India, Pakistan’s majority Hindu neighbor and archrival, rushed to condemn the conversions as forced. Be that as it may, what’s going on is more subtle. Religious and political leaders on the two sides of the discussion state that desperation has frequently been the main reason behind their change of religion.
Follow NewsGram on LinkedIn to know what’s happening around the world.
The Hindus of Pakistan are regularly and systemically discriminated in varying social statuses and treated as second-class citizens. They’re discriminated in every walk of life like lodging, employments, access to government assistance, etc. While minorities have for some time been attracted to convert, so as to join the majority and getaway from discrimination and sectarian strife. Hindu community leaders state that the ongoing uptick in conversions has likewise been roused by newfound economic pressures and burdens.
“What we are looking for is societal position, nothing else,” said Muhammad Aslam Sheik, whose name was Sawan Bheel until June. He converted to Islam in Badin with his family.
“These changes are getting basic in helpless Hindu people group”, he added.
Proselytizing Muslim ministers and noble cause bunches like charity groups add to the faith’s allure, extending incentives of jobs or land to devastated minority individuals only if they convert.
With Pakistan’s economy near the very edge of collapse in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the burdens on the nation’s minorities, frequently its most unfortunate individuals, have expanded. The World Bank predicts that economy will decrease by 1.3 percent in the 2020 fiscal year in light of the pandemic and up to 18 million of Pakistan’s 74 million employments might be lost.
Mr. Sheikh and his family would like to receive money related help from well off Muslims or from Islamic foundations that have sprung up as of late, which center around attracting more individuals to Islam.
“There is nothing amiss with that,” Mr. Sheik said. “Everybody helps the individuals of their confidence.”
As Mr. Sheik sees it, there is nothing left for Pakistan’s more affluent Hindus to provide the individuals of their own faith. That is on the grounds that there are scarcely any Hindus left.
At independence in 1947, Hindus made 20.5 percent out of the number of inhabitants in the areas that currently structure Pakistan. In the following decades, the rate shrank quickly. The last government census to arrange individuals by religion, conducted in 1998, showed that Hindus were just 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population. Most estimates state it has further dwindled in the past two decades.
Sindh Province, which was once a mixture of religions and where the conversion ceremony took place, has seen minority individuals escape to different nations in large numbers in late decades. Many face harsh discrimination and unforgiving segregation, along with the specter of violence. There is also the risk of blasphemy, a capital crime— in the event that they stand up against it.
“The dehumanization of minorities coupled with these very scary times we are living in — a weak economy and now the pandemic — we may see a raft of people converting to Islam to stave off violence or hunger or just to live to see another day,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a former Pakistani lawmaker who is presently a senior individual at the Religious Freedom Institute, a research group in Washington.
Ms. Ispahani recalled the destructive floods of 2010 in Sindh Province, which left thousands of people destitute and homeless. She informed that Hindus were not permitted to sit with Muslims at soup kitchens. Furthermore, she told that when government aid was distributed, Hindus got less of it than their Muslim peers.
“Will they be converting with their hearts and souls?” Ms. Ispahani said. “I don’t think so.”
Ms. Ispahani worries that the further economic devastation brought about by the pandemic may prod more sectarian violence and that may increase the weight on minorities to change over to Islam.
Murtaza Wahab, who is an adviser to the chief minister of Sindh, was among a few government officials who said they couldn’t address Ms. Ispahani’s allegation that Hindus got less aid after the floods, as it occurred before they got to work.
“The Hindu community is an important part of our society and we believe that people from all faiths should live together without issue,” Mr. Wahab said.
Forced conversions of Hindu young girls and women to Islam through kidnapping and coerced marriages take place all through Pakistan. Not only this, but Hindu rights communitites are also disturbed by the deliberate and voluntary conversions, saying they happen under such financial pressure that they are equivalent to a constrained and forced conversion in any case.
“Overall, religious minorities do not feel safe in Pakistan. But poor Hindus are the most vulnerable among them. They are extremely poor and illiterate, and Muslim mosques, charities and traders exploit them easily and lure them to convert to Islam. A lot of money is involved in it”, said Lal Chand Mahli, a Pakistani Hindu lawmaker with the ruling party, who is a member of a parliamentary committee to protect minorities from forced conversions.
Clerics like Muhammad Naeem were at the cutting edge of a push to convert more Hindus. (Mr. Naeem was 62 and died of cardiac arrest two weeks after the interviewed in June).
Mr. Naeem said that at Jamia Binoria in his seminary in Karachi, he had regulated more than of 450 conversions in the course of past 2 years. Most of the converts were low-caste Hindus from Sindh Province, he said.
“We have not been forcing them to convert. In fact, people come to us because they want to escape discrimination attached with their caste and change their socioeconomic status,” Mr. Naeem said.
He added saying that the demand was so incredible, that his seminary had set up a different department to manage the new converts and give counsel in legal or monetary issues.
On an ongoing evening, through a bunch of recently raised tents in Matli (an infertile patch of Sindh), the call to to prayer echoed. A group of Karachi’s affluent Muslim merchants purchased the land a year ago for numerous families who had changed over from Hinduism.
Muhammad Ali, who was known by his Hindu name Rajesh before converting to Islam last year, performed ablutions before praying at another mosque adjoining the tents.
A year ago, his whole family had chosen to change over to Islam when Mr. Naeem, the cleric, offered to liberate them from the bonded labor in which they were caught, living and filling in as obligated workers in light of unpaid debt. Mr. Ali belongs to one of the lowest castes in ,the Bheel caste.
“We have found a sense of equality and brotherhood in Islam, and therefore we converted to it,” Mr. Ali said.
Lower-caste Pakistani Hindus are regularly the victims of bonded labor. It was banned in 1992, yet the practice is as yet predominant. The Global Slavery Index evaluates that a little more than 3,000,000 Pakistanis live paying off debtors bondage.
Rights groups say that landowners trap poor and helpless Hindus into such bondage by giving advances that they know can never be reimbursed. They and their families are then compelled to work off the obligation. The ladies are often sexually abused.
Mr. Naeem’s seminary had safeguarded a few Hindus. This included Mr. Ali and his family. They were rescued from bonded labor by taking care of their debts in return for their changes to Islam.
At the point when Mr. Ali and his family changed over, Mr. Naeem and a gathering of rich Muslim traders provided them with a piece of land and helped them look for some kind of employment, thinking of it as an Islamic duty to support them.
“Those who make efforts to spread the message and bring the non-Muslims into the fold of Islam will be blessed in the hereafter,” Mr. Naeem said.