As India-Pak Spar Over Religious Conversions, Hindu Women Live on Edge Amid Threats of Being Sold to Sex Trade
A 2014 report from the Movement for Solidarity and Peace estimated that nearly 1,000 non-Muslim girls are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and are often pushed into sex trade in Pakistan every year.
Representative Image (Photo: Reuters/ Damir Sagolj)
New Delhi: Launching a scathing attack on India, Pakistan accused Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj of politicising the abduction and conversion of two Hindu girls in a “desperate” attempt to factor votes ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal and Swaraj were engaged in a Twitter spat over the treatment of minorities in each other’s countries on Sunday after a report emerged that two Hindu girls had been abducted in Pakistan last week.
On March 28, Faisal alleged that there was no need for Swaraj, in her tweet, to demand the Indian High Commissioner in the neighbouring country to send a report on the incident because after taking cognizance of the matter, the Imran Khan-led government had already pursued the issue at the highest level.
Training guns on Faisal, Swaraj then tweeted that the initiation of an inquiry only betrays the “guilty conscience” of Pakistan. “Mr.Minister @fawadchaudhry - I only asked for a report from Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad about the kidnapping and forced conversion of two minor Hindu girls to Islam. This was enough to make you jittery. This only shows your guilty conscience. @IndiainPakistan," Swaraj said in her post.
The verbal duel between the two key ministers of Indian and Pakistan reached a crescendo at this point, with Faisal accusing Swaraj of using “desperate electioneering ploys” for the Lok Sabha elections, which he said, was a commonplace spectacle in India.
“The tweets by the Indian External Affairs Minister are a regrettable indication of the desperate electioneering ploys we see in full exhibit in India. Such remarks are sadder, coming from a government which allowed the Gujarat massacre, permitting gang rape of Muslim women and other inhuman atrocities, where pregnant Muslim women were gutted and their unborn children ripped from their bodies. Muslim children were forced to drink petrol before being set on fire. The speakers may have short memories but the world remembers,” he tweeted.
The spokesperson also said that India should also look at videos of Muslims being converted and how “human rights should transcend politics.”
The Islamabad High Court on March 26 ordered official protection for the two girls due to concerns about their safety, as authorities widened the probe to ascertain if the teenage sisters were abducted, forcibly converted and married. The police have arrested the cleric who solemnised the wedding and six others for their alleged involvement in the girls’ forceful conversion.
A Worrying Phenomenon
Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan and according to official estimates, 75 lakh people belonging to the faith live in the neighbouring country, with majority of them settled in Sindh province.
According to media reports, approximately 25 forced marriages take place every month in the Umerkot district of Sindh province alone. A 2014 report from the Movement for Solidarity and Peace estimated that nearly 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. The report also found that forced marriages usually bear a similar pattern, where the girls between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, made to convert, and then married off to the abductor or an associate.
This is not the first time that India has voiced concerns over the matter and has raised four similar cases in the past, one in January and three more in 2017.
Speaking to News18, Asad Butt, the vice chairperson of Human Rights Commission in Sindh, said that issue of conversion was very old. “Only few cases are highlighted. Most of them are poor people belonging to lower castes and are scared about their image in the society. So they choose to be silent, don’t go to an NGO, or report the incident to the police,” he said.
The incidence of such cases has increased considerably in Sindh after the region witnessed a sudden mushrooming of madrassas, where the accused, he said, are given shelter and protection.
Butt explained that even while steps are being taken to ensure that such incidents are avoided, ground realities make the process difficult. “If someone wants to convert, I understand, but what will these 10-15 year-old girls know?”
“After the girls are abducted there is no information about them. We don’t know whether she has been sold or has been pushed into sex trade. The girls are not even allowed to talk to their parents,” he said.
He also highlighted a similar case that took place 2-3 months ago. “The political leadership threatened the accused of jailing their families if the girls were not returned. That sort of political will is required if we intend to stop such incidents,” Butt said.
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