Pakistan’s minority communities, especially Hindus in Sindh, have long faced the issue of forced conversions. Every year, several women belonging to the minority communities are abducted and forcibly converted by religious extremists.
According to the Pakistan Bureau of statistics, the overall population of the Hindu community in Pakistan is 1.60%, and 6.51% in Sindh. Young Hindu girls have fallen victim to forced conversions and marriages for far too long – and their plight continues. The government’s inaction makes the situation even more disturbing.
One such story is of Aarti and Sonika: two Hindu sisters abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in Larkana last year.
On April 3, a 22-year-old Hindu girl, Aarti, who worked at a beauty parlor, went missing from the Ali Gohar Abad area of Larkana. When Aarti, daughter of Namo Mal did not return from the salon, the family set out to file an FIR. Following registration of the FIR, Aarti was recovered from Karachi on April 9. But that was not all.
Along with her was a boy named Muhammad Fawad who was from Karachi and claimed to be Aarti’s husband. Aarti was then brought to the Larkana sessions court along with her alleged husband, Fawad. At the court, she stated that she had married and converted to Islam of her own free feel.
Her 35-years-old neighbour Pooja, who lives in the same area, told Friday Times that Aarti had gone to a party with her friends in a village on the day of her disappearance. She did not return home from the party, and after the registration of FIR, she was later ‘recovered’ from Karachi. Pooja added that during court hearing following her recovery, Aarti was not allowed to meet her parents.
Another neighbour of the victim, 37-year-old Sheetal, said that Aarti was kept in Darul Aman (shelter home for women) where she was not allowed to meet her parents. She further said that this ongoing victimisation of young Hindu girls is forcing the community to leave the country.
The victim’s father, while speaking to a media channel teary-eyed, said that the police called the family after she was brought to the sessions court after her recovery. The family was not informed when the girl was brought to Larkana from Karachi or when they found out that she was in Karachi. He further said that his daughter appeared shaken and under pressure while telling the court that she wanted to go to Darul Aman.
Aarti’s lawyer told the media that the judge’s remarks in the case appear to be biased and one-sided.
“We sought medical checkup of the girl to inquire if she had been tortured, but our request was denied,” the lawyer said. Lamenting that their request for a medical checkup of the girl was dismissed, he said that the judge appeared to be under duress while favouring the accused.
The victim’s father, while speaking to a media channel teary-eyed, said that the police called the family after she was brought to the sessions court after her recovery. The family was not informed when the girl was brought to Larkana from Karachi or when they found out that she was in Karachi.
He also casted doubts on the investigation conducted by the police, asking how the girl ended up in Karachi despite registration of the FIR on the same day as her disappearance. He also questioned the police’s failure to recover her at the several check posts in the area.
Hindu lawyer Kalpna Devi who was present at the court on April 22 last year told the media that the decision favoured the abductors and the injustice meted out to the Hindu family was ignored. She added that the CNIC of the girl was not available and her age was not determined, nor was she medically checked.
On April 17, Muhammad Fawad, Aarti’s alleged husband, told media that Aarti converted to Islam of her own free will. According to him, he spent time with the girl for two days, and then requested her to accept Islam and marry him. When asked why he did not inform her parents before converting her to Islam, he claimed that he discussed the matter with lawyers in Karachi and later confirmed her age after looking at the matriculation certificate from her school in Larkana because her CNIC was not available.
The plight of Aarti’s parents did not end here. After the family lost Aarti, their second daughter also went missing five months later.
24-year-old Sonika went missing in September when she was on her way to Resham Gali Bazar in Larkana. When Namo Mal’s 24-year-old daughter Sonika did not return, the family set out to find her.
Her father said that Sonika had gone to the Resham Gali Bazar to shop for her wedding that was to take place in November. “I rushed home as soon as I heard that Sonika had not returned yet,” he added. She sent a Whatsapp message to her brother, saying that she was safe and would return home the next day. The next day she sent another message and said she would come back ‘soon’.
This time the family did not lodge an FIR because they had experienced the authorities’ callous attitude at the time of their other daughter’s disappearance five months ago.
Later, Sonika’s location was traced at one of her Muslim friends’ house. The presence of Sonika at that location set alarm bells for her family. Although she was with her friends, given their prior experience, the family realised that this was another case of forced conversion.
Sonika’s father stated, “We did not register any FIR, nor did we protest because we did not get any justice at the time of our other daughter’s disappearance.”
According to her father, Sonika had told him over the phone that she could not come back because the accused were threatening her not to leave.
A few days later, she released a video message saying that she had accepted Islam of her own free will and had married Zeeshan Ali. She also accused her parents of pressuring her.
Aarti and Sonika are not the only victims. Forced conversion of young Hindu girls has become the norm in Sindh, and the authorities have done little to address this grave issue.
This blog has been produced in collaboration with Ravadar – a blog series documenting the lives of religious minorities in Pakistan.