Forced Marriage And Conversion Stem From Institutionalized Intolerance
Religious diversity forms the bedrock of civilized democratic state, however in Pakistan the right to propagate and freely practice one’s religion is strictly restricted by the orthodox clergy that is bend upon imposing its own version of the state religion. There is a growing concern within the country over shrinking social space for minorities. Religious minority instead of being treated as equal citizens of the state, form the vulnerable factions who are prone to suffer discrimination and unfathomable institutionalized injustice at the hands of the majority. Women who belong to religious minorities are doubly vulnerable as they are often converted and married forcibly by their kidnappers.There is plethora of forced conversion cases being reported by the media yet the state has done practically nothing to stop the tide.
According to British Pakistan Christian Association (BPCA), a network for creating a voice for Pakistani Christians, two sisters Tahira (21 years) and Reema Bibi (20 years) were kidnapped from near their house in Sargodha, Pakistan on December 2nd 2015, whilst travelling back from work. The young women were abducted by two Muslim men, Muhammad Mustafa (29 years) and Muhammad Kashif (30 years), who lived locally in an area named Chak 38 Janubi district Sargodha. They were raped and forcibly married to their rapist and were kept captive at a house in Islamabad. On 11th of February Tahira, managed to, escape the abductors. Upon an FIR filed by Muhammud Kashif the police officers arrested six male members of victim’s family. Police have released the men after pressure from several humanitarian groups but upon the return of Tahira to her husband Muhammed Kashif.
Also another incident reported by (BPCA) in February 2016 is that a Christian woman was captured and forced into Islamic marriage by her Muslim employee who she worked for as a bonded labourer. Since her escape, which was coordinated by smuggling a phone through another bonded labourer cleaning the same house, police visited her parental home twice calling for her to be arrested or for a family member be arrested in her place. Her elderly parents have chosen to remain in their home but her siblings have been moved safely in a BPCA home far away from the torturous village of Kasur where Christians work as slaves for Muslim landlords in brick kilns. It is the same area where a infamous Christian couple Shama and Shazad were burnt alive in November 2014.
According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, every year, at least 1,000 Pakistani girls are forced into Muslim marriages and converted to Islam out of which 700 of these are Christians and 300 are Hindus. The report found that forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: girls, often between the ages of 12 and 25, are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate. If a complaint is filed, then “girls are held in custody by the abductors and suffer all kinds of abuse and violence. Those who are forced to marry are often threatened and pressurized by her husband and his family to declare that their conversion was voluntary and by will, even if the case is taken to court.
Many cases of forced conversions are not even reported because the police or the adjudicators are often dishonest and complicit in such crimes discouraging minorities from taking legal action.
The intrinsic vulnerability of minority religious communities (Hindus in Pakistan make up approximately 2% of the population, Christians 1.5%) which are exposed to abuse and discrimination tops it all off. Injustice lingers and is set in stone, almost institutionalized. the patterns of violence through which the law and social attitudes become complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, is unfortunately almost became institutionalized.
Almost all reported cases of forced conversion appear to follow a set pattern where the family of the victim reports the incident. The kidnappers contest it, claiming that the young girl made the choice of her own free will. When the girl is eventually called to give evidence before a judge, having received threats and having been placed under unspeakable pressure, she declares that she willingly converted and agreed to marriage. As a result the case is closed. Victims are sexually abused, forced into prostitution, and suffer domestic abuse or even end up in human trafficking cycle. Such cases rarely result in the girls going back to their real families. From the moment the controversy begins, until the court hearing, the girls live with their kidnappers and suffer trauma and violence. These fragile and vulnerable teens are told that they “are now Muslims and that the punishment for apostasy is death”
In November 2015, the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology publicly and proudly opposed a potential law on “forced conversion”, sparking dismay and protests among Hindus and Christians. The recently promulgated Hindu Marriage Act 2015 contains a controversial clause which states:“ a marriage will be annulled if any of the spouse converts to another religion”. The rights organization has expressed fears that the clause will be misused for forced conversions of married women in the same way as the young girls are subjected to forced conversions.
Article 36 of the Constitution of Pakistan states that:“the state shall safeguard the legitimate rights of the minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial services”. Article 25 also guarantees equality but regrettably minorities in the country are treated at par with the majority the lower social status of the minority translates into their poor representation in the political system which hinders their access to governance while their legislative needs are also left unattended.
In a landmark judgment on minority rights pronounced on June 19 2014 the Supreme Court took notice of the injustice meted out on the minority. The bench headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, and comprising of judges Azmat Saeed and Mushir Alam, observed that there is a general lack of minority rights among people and those entrusted with law enforcement are also not fully sensitized to this issue either. The judgment explains religion in broad liberal terms, declaring it a fundamental right of every person to:“profess, practice and propagate his religious views even against the prevailing or dominant views of its own religious domination or sect,” yet, despite this liberal agenda and thought put forward, the judgment has not garnered any noticeable reaction from the government.
Pakistan’s government should ensure the security of the country’s religious minorities and the recommendation of the Supreme Court for the formation of a three-member bench to exclusively look out for violation of minority rights should be implemented to streamline and address complaints related to minorities.
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