Parliamentary panel finds Sindh as hub of forced conversions

ISLAMABAD: The parliamentary committee to protect minorities from forced conversions has observed that cases of forced conversions are mostly occurring in Sindh, while certain religious groups might even be considering conversion of minor girls through criminal tactics as legal.

The committee that met in the Parliament House here on Friday adopted its terms of reference and decided to finalise its suggestions in six months.

Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar, chairman of the committee, said the issue was sensitive, serious and complicated and the committee would explore all aspects to get firsthand information about the matter. He said: “More people die in the name of religion across the globe than anything else. We have to be cautious and move ahead to ensure that rights of religious minorities are protected by the state as well as the parliament.”

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Senator Kakar said: “The most complicated part of the situation is that — what is considered as forced conversion by the aggrieved community is considered wilful conversion by religious groups, which includes Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, people like Mian Mithu of Sindh and even Tablighi Jamaat, but at the same time all conversions are not under duress and threats.”

The committee comprising Minster for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri and members of both houses of the parliament acknowledged that many reported cases of conversions were incorrect.

“But this is an issue and we are responsible for controlling it,” the minister said, highlighting a case related to a false blasphemy accusation after some personal fight between two persons.

“[As] Religion is abused for politics, monetary gains and personal benefits, I suggest that this committee should study each such case of forced conversion and arrive at a conclusion,” the minister said.

Besides, he added, it was the responsibility of all concerned that the “influence of rising religious extremism in India should be contained in Pakistan and we cannot allow such mindset to flourish here”.

The committee was given input by members of the parliament, including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani who said that his bill for legislation on the same subject had been pending in the National Assembly.

“Times are changing and we should take advantage of this era, as all those who used to encourage kidnapping of minor girls, marry them and announce that they have converted to Islam are on the back foot now,” Dr Vankwani added.

Senator Sajjad Turi, who belongs to Parachinar, was of the opinion that the issue of forced conversion persisted mainly in Sindh, followed by Punjab, whereas non-Muslim communities were not facing any harassment in former Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

“Sikhs and Hindus live in remote villages. And we try our best to protect [them] against Taliban. Everybody is happy there so what we need to do is narrow down the course of discussion to the infested areas,” Mr Turi added.

MNA Lal Chand suggested that the committee hold a meeting with the Sindh government because the matter could be resolved only by involving all tiers of the government.

The committee decided to visit all provinces and hold meetings with the provincial, district governments, civil administration and police officials so as to create an integrated system of detection, reporting, vigilance and response concerning forced conversions.

It was informed that a bill against forced conversion was passed unanimously by the Sindh Assembly, but it was later withdrawn by some political parties.

Senator Kakar said: “We will have a detailed meeting with all political parties in Sindh and meet those accused of involvment in forced conversion apart from public hearings in vulnerable areas.”

The meeting was attended by Senator Dr Sikandar Mandhro, Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak and MNAs Jai Parkash, Lal Chand, Dr Darshan, Keshhoo Mal Kheeal Das, Shagufta Jumani, Ramesh Lal and Naveed Aamir Jeeva.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020