Pakistan’s persecuted minorities

Girls from religious minorities are under constant threat of forced marriage and conversion.

Hardeep Singh

Topics Culture World

In Pakistan, 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to their abductors every year.

No faith minority is spared. Last month, a Sikh girl, Jagjit Kaur, was abducted at gunpoint, converted and betrothed to a Muslim man in a purported nikah (marriage) ceremony. You don’t need any expertise in body language to recognise a visibly anxious young woman in the video footage of the nuptials. The footage went viral, resulting in a diplomatic crisis for Imran Khan. Incensed Indian politicians across the Punjabi border waded in on behalf of Kaur and her beleaguered family. Thankfully she is now safe. But many girls – be they Sikh, Christian or Hindu – suffer in silence, and abductors are often granted impunity.

Professor Javaid Rehman from Brunel University is co-author of a new report on religious minorities in Pakistan, launched in parliament last month. He tells me that ‘local authorities, especially police, particularly in the Punjab province, are often accused of being complicit in these cases by failing to properly investigate reported cases or prosecute offenders’. He adds that ‘despite the political rhetoric, the state has not taken any effective steps to stop these practices’. Rehman cites various proposed bills which have failed to become law, such as the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities Bill) 2016. The bill had aimed to restrict forced conversions of minorities in Pakistan’s Sindh province. It was passed unanimously by the Sindh assembly but was withdrawn before it could be ratified following widespread opposition from religious groups.

Although the plight of Asia Bibi rightly drew international condemnation, abduction and forced-marriage cases like those of Rinkle Kumari, Ravita Meghwar or teenage sisters Reena and Raveena Lal have received far less international attention.

According to an official in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, between 20 and 25 Hindu girls are abducted every month and converted. These types of religiously motivated crimes against non-Muslims follow a gut-wrenching pattern. When families report abductions to local police, abductors issue counter statements suggesting the girl ran away, chose to adopt Islam and married all of her own free will. Within hours, girls are given Islamic names, such as Ayesha in the case of Jagjit Kaur. Meanwhile, families maintain their daughters are innocent victims, and any statements given to the contrary have been given under duress. It isn’t unusual for abductors either to compel victims to file statements in court to support their narrative or issue threats to those brave enough to demand their girls back.

Veengas is a Karachi-based journalist who has reported extensively on forced conversion in Pakistan’s Sindh province. In a 2017 article, ‘Bring Back Our Girls’, she writes:

‘Reporting on the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of young Hindu girls in Pakistan’s Sindh province has never been easy. After hearing the heart-rending stories told by parents of daughters as young as 12 snatched away [and] married off in dargahs [shrines] to adult men within hours, you see the same pattern repeat itself in case after case – a triumphant clergy, a lax or complicit police force, ineffective courts, an often passive civil society and largely an uncritical mainstream media.’

Veengas’s work paints a worrying picture for the country’s kaffirs, or unbelievers.

Reuben Ackerman is the author of Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages in Sindh, Pakistan. He has made several sensible recommendations on how UK and Commonwealth partners can help. They include mobilisation of our parliamentarians to raise matters of freedom of religion or belief with the UK government, and with politicians in Pakistan. The UK can also help to improve the political influence of campaigners for religious freedom.

The issue is at least on the government’s radar. Last year, the UK and UN launched the AAWAZ II programme with a £17million fund to the UN in Pakistan to implement a five-year development project. AAWAZ II calls for action on issues like ‘child labour, early and forced marriage and inter-faith harmony’. Let’s hope these funds can make a difference to the most vulnerable.

David Alton, a crossbench peer, visited Pakistan last year and relayed accounts in the House of Lords about the persecution of religious minorities, including death sentences due to blasphemy laws, abductions, rape and the forced marriage of a nine-year-old girl, He told me it is ‘scandalous that in pouring in £2.6 billion of aid into Pakistan over the past decade we have not prioritised the appalling persecution of the country’s minorities’.

We need to do all we can to stamp out the barbaric persecution of minorities in Pakistan.

Hardeep Singh is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @singhtwo2

Picture by: Getty.

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Jim Lawrie

28th October 2019 at 7:05 pm

“Especially the RCC … ” oh dear Winston. Maybe even “especially the Irish Roman Catholic Church” as brought to power under the sponsorship of The British?

You have no knowledge of the history of Catholic schools in Scotland and Ireland, the reasons why they came about, and why the State decided to fund them. They are part of the history of these Islands, unlike other religious schools.
Following your logic, immunisations could be scrapped and an outbreak of measles eradicated with a good, stiff scrubbing brush and a bar of carbolic soap.

Andrew Leonard

25th October 2019 at 2:31 am

The post-WW2 concept; “All cultures are equal” – was in part a reflexive response to the holocaust. We in the West have succeeded in inhibiting ourselves from condemning this sort of treatment of women, in spite of the peculiar belief that almost all of us are Feminists (it’s just that most of us don’t realize it).

Can we now say that this imposed belief in the equality of cultures, is causing more harm then it prevents? Is the holocaust tail going to wag the Western dog forever more, as Progressive thinking demands, or are we going to put WW2 behind us, and move past the 1948 consensus?

My personal hope is for the people of all countries, cultures and ethnicities, to enjoy the same individual rights and standard of living as do most of us in the West. I hope one day to see the people of Africa and the Middle East, spewing as much CO2 into the atmosphere as we do.

However, the first step to a better world is to recognise the flaws of the current, and one of those flaws is the utterly barbaric and backward nature of Pakistani culture, which is at a point of ethical development that the West surpassed many hundreds of years ago.

Winston Stanley

25th October 2019 at 12:18 pm

If you support a modern secular society then support the campaigns to disestablish the state religion and to end all faith schools in UK. What other countries do is their affair, just as what we do is our responsibility. We need less self-congratulatory jingoism and more self-reform. Cultural hegemony over other countries should not be our aim, rather to reform our own society in line with our own secular values. Let us “take the beam out of our own eye” instead of grandstanding about other cultures.

Andrew Leonard

27th October 2019 at 11:44 pm

Culture is a very broad term. I wouldn’t hope or expect to see our culture replicated in another country ‘line-for-line’, and engineered outcomes are doomed to failure – Iraq being the textbook example. Also, I support the separation of church and state. However, I also reject the current state of Western culture, that refuses to call a spade a spade, in the face of atrocious abuses of individual rights. Anti-jingoism can be just as harmful as jingoism.

Dominic Straiton

24th October 2019 at 7:39 pm

The Christchurch death toll is repeated every day. Christians are the most persecuted people on earth.

rick nellor

30th October 2019 at 11:30 pm

So true. When we start slaughtering muslims on a large scale you can bet this will get worldwide outrage. This religion does not play nice. It is either their way or death.

Ven Oods

24th October 2019 at 7:01 pm

Why we give foreign aid money to these benighted shitwits continues to bewilder me.

Winston Stanley

24th October 2019 at 5:01 pm

Reform starts at home. Disestablish the state religion, hardly any youngsters (1%) self-identify with it, even loosely. End the compulsory Christian prayer in all state schools, that force all kids to participate in state religious ceremonies at school. Get the schools off the churches, especially the RCC that makes family mass attendance a precondition of the admission of kids to the schools in a cynical attempt to maintain its numbers. End sectarian schooling in NI, violent social divisions should not be perpetuated in schools. We need a secular state and civil society that is fit for a secular society in the 21st century. Reform starts at home or “take the beam out of your own eye first.”

Brad McPower

24th October 2019 at 8:32 pm

Wow, your argument is amazing and makes complete sense. Terrible Islamic abuse of people in Pakistan? Attack and disestablish Christianity in Britain! Such a flowing, reasonable mind you have, Mr. S…

Winston Stanley

24th October 2019 at 9:05 pm

Yes I know, b/c we live in UK and not in Pakistan and… reform starts at home, especially reform that impacts on us. As a society we need more introspection and self-awareness/ criticism. Criticism of others is largely non-consequential to us and there is a danger that it encourages a self-righteous complacency that can work only for the ill of our own society. We need less “look at them” and more “lets take a good look at ourselves”. That seems justified if only b/c of the utter state of NI under UK rule, which is totally unacceptable, but not just b/c of that. We need a serious conversation about the role of religion in schooling and the respect that we give to the religious independence of minors before we start worrying about what countries on other continents are doing. “Put your own house in order first.” More serious politics, less ethnic sloganizing.

rick nellor

30th October 2019 at 11:33 pm

Go ahead and start your pilot project in muslim nations.

Michael McHugh

24th October 2019 at 4:41 pm

The persecution and abduction and forced conversion of Pakistan’s religious minorities at the hands of Islamist thugs, is one of the biggest injustices happening in the world today.

The case of Rinkle Kumari is especially shocking. Her case in 2012 attracted a lot of media attention in Pakistan and India. During her testimony in court she specifically said that she wanted to be sent back to her parents. However the judge said that she was ‘confused’ and she was sent back to a shelter instead. Later, she was interviewed and she unconvincingly said that she had converted to Islam. But she was most likely converted under the threat of violence to her and the Hindu community.

The madrasah where she was ‘converted’ is affiliated with a local imam and politician called Mian Mithu. He has been known to engage in conversion activities. During the Rinkle Kumari court case many of his supporters were outside the courtroom brandishing guns.

Since 2012, nothing has been heard of from Rinkle Kumari. Her heart-broken family have since left Pakistan and now live in India. Some sources say that Rinkle is now living a quiet life with her husband as a teacher in Sindh province. Others speculate that she was sexually enslaved in one of Mian Mithu’s brothels, and is probably dead now.

Whatever her fate, Rinkle Kumari’s case reflects very badly on Pakistan and its treatment of its religious minorities.

jessica christon

24th October 2019 at 3:53 pm

Whenever I see annoying western woke stuff, this is what I think about. Outside of the west, being a woman or a minority can be really, really, shit and these are the people who should take priority under our assylum rules, in my opinion. Christians, Hindus and Sikhs should have their cases looked at more sympathetically when they’re fleeing Islamic countries, and they should have been the only ones that we took out of the Syrian refugee camps a few years ago too.

Jane 70

24th October 2019 at 5:05 pm

Quite right Jessica; the wokerons ignore the plight of Christians, Yazidis and young prepubertal girls being forced into marriage with older men.
This latter apparently condoned not only in Pakistan, but also Iraq- with the encouragement of Shia clerics-Yemen and Bangladesh.
I’ve just read the outcome of the recent trial in Bangladesh of the group responsible for setting fire to a young 18 year old girl, who had the temerity to accuse her head teacher of sexual assault.
Protracted and widespread protests finally brought the perps to court.
Of course, all this is happening in Islamic countries, where females are still treated as chattels and possessions.
Finally, it was partly due to the efforts of Sikh families that the grooming scandals here in the UK finally came to light , exposing the reluctance of the establishment to take any action.

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