“Our people fear for their lives, their property. There is no justice to be sought from law enforcement agencies or courts,” said Ravi Dawani, the secretary-general of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat. STOCK PHOTO
Hindus in Sindh demand the government to formulate strict laws against forced marriages, conversions and for the protection of their rights.
At a consultative meeting on the ‘Draft of Minorities’ Forced Marriages and Conversion’, arranged by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-Pak) at the Regent Plaza hotel on Friday, speakers said that the Hindu community was living in fear across the country, particularly in Sindh.
“Our people fear for their lives, their property. There is no justice to be sought from law enforcement agencies or courts,” said Ravi Dawani, the secretary-general of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat. He said that almost 1,000 girls were forced to convert in Sindh each year.
Explaining the state of fear his community was living in, Dawani said that many Hindus preferred to give their children Muslim names such as Sameer, Naveed, Komal and Somal. “Our children also face discrimination in educational institutions,” he added.
“The issue of Rinkle Kumari ruined the entire community,” said Advocate Kalpana Devi, the chairperson of the Hindu Panchayat, Larkana. She revealed that the issue of forced marriages was more prevalent in areas inhabited by the less-privileged among the community. She also pointed out that several families were migrating to India due to one reason or another. “Twenty families from Sukkur and six families from Thull left for India last month,” she claimed.
The participants who belonged to different parts of the province, including Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Larkana, Jacobabad and Hyderabad, urged that Sindh’s Hindus will face such issues until and unless separate laws are drafted, including the Hindu Marriage Law.
“India has the Muslim marriage law but we have still not formulated the Hindu marriage law,” said social activist, Zulfiqar Halepoto. “Over 70 per cent of the Hindus of Pakistan live in Sindh, but the provincial government has failed to give them their due rights,” he alleged.
Halepoto advised lawmakers representing minorities to initiate a pressure group that could jointly fight for their rights.
“We should have equal rights. There is no Hindu or Muslim before the law; all are equal citizens,” urged Shahnaz Sheedi, the provincial coordinator of SAP-Pak. She pointed out that the issue of forced marriages and conversions had surfaced quite recently. “We used to live in peace but the situation is changing for the worse since the last few years,” she added.
Advocate Amarnath Motumal expressed discontentment with judicial system of the country and believed that society discriminated against Hindus. “The judges rarely dispense justice to us.” He appealed to his community members not to go to courts with cases of forced marriage. “We close the doors when we go to courts for justice.”
Motumal denied that Hindus were migrating to India. “It is all propaganda. Sindh is our motherland and we will not move to any other place,” said the aged man, his voice trembling with emotion. He said that 95 per cent of the Hindus were poor, adding that they needed immediate state help.
“We own the land, the state and its laws but the state does not own us,” said Advocate Veerji Kolhi. “We are deprived of our rights and haven’t even been given a marriage act since partition.”
Sindh Assembly’s lawmaker, representing the Pakistan Muslim League – Functional, Nand Kumar, alleged that Hindus were discriminated against whenever the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was in power. “I assure you my complete support if a draft for minorities is presented.”
Dr Lal Chand Ukrani, PPP’s MPA, said that the issue of forced conversion had started at the time of partition. “It is not a new issue. We have to strive together. I represent my community first, then the party,” he claimed.
“The political parties prefer to have rich Hindus in the assemblies,” remarked another social activist, Punhal Sario. “These issues will not be addressed until all political parties seriously look at the root causes.”