As many as 99 percent of Hindu girls who are converted to Islam and forcibly married are under 13 years of age, leader of the premier Hindu organization in Pakistan said Friday. “As many as 20 new cases have been registered in courts in the last two months alone,” Ravi Dawani, general secretary of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, said in a phone interview with The Baltimore Examiner from Karachi. “Most of the victims belong to the under-privileged Kolhi, Bheel and Meghwar communities in lower Sindh.”
Dawani said marriage of girls under 13 was outlawed when Pakistan was still under British rule way back in 1927. “At the time a hefty fine of Rs 10,000 was fixed for anyone violating the law,” he said. He said in 1965, Pakistan raised the legal age of marriage to 16 with a fine of Rs 10,000 and jail time for the violators. “Recent change in the law made through the efforts of Sharmila Faruqi and Rubina Qaimkhani has raised the age to 18 years,” Dawani said.
According to media reports, in many Muslim countries, notably Saudi Arabia, child marriages are defended under the pretext of religion – Prophet Muhammad is said to have married one of his wives Ayesha when she was of a very tender age. Pakistani Muslims, who try to imitate Arabs, also believe it is okay to marry under-age girls. Like the Arabs, many Pakistani men think if they have sex with under-age girls, their sexual stamina would improve.
Sexual lust rather than religious fervor appears to be the driving force behind the forced conversions and marriages of the Hindu girls, Dawani said. “If a Hindu changes her faith on her free will, then we will have no objection,” he said. “As regards to change of faith, why is it necessary for a girl to get married at the same time she decides to change faith. Why is it necessary for a Hindu female who converts to Islam, to become a wife at the same time? Why can’t she be just a sister and change her faith?” he asked. He also questioned the speed with which the change of religion and marriage happens within a 24-hour window.
Dawani said that nothing is known about the fate of the minor girls who are taken away and married off under duress. “We have no idea whether they are killed or end up in brothels,” he lamented. He also regretted that very high profile lawyers, with big names, sometimes show up to defend the culprits.
According to media reports, in one such case high profile lawyer Mujeeb Pirzada showed up to defend the alleged rapist. Many high power Muslim priests are also involved in giving a religious cover to the practice of abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls. In the case of Rinkle Kumari, the Pir of Bharchundi Sharif (see video), who is a leader of Pakistan People’s Party, defended the culprits. In most cases in lower Sindh, the minor girls are transported to another cleric Pir Ayub Jan Sarhindi for the conversions.
At times plans are made to transport the Hindu girl as far away as possible from the place of her abduction to keep her away from her family. “In the case of Jyoti, she was abducted from Jamshoro in Sindh but recovered all the way from Balochistan,” Dawani said. He said that the existing practice is to send the girl to a shelter, where she has no access to her parents while the abductors are allowed to contact them. He said at times the age of the girl like in the case of Anjali is crystal clear as it is mentioned in official documents and verifiable through medical tests, but the child is still not returned to the family. “Sometimes a court may pass a verdict in favor of the parents, but the orders go unimplemented,” he said. Pakistan is one of the worst places for religious minorities, especially Hindus and Christians. Two dozen Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam each month, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. As many as 1,000 Hindu and Christian females are converted to Islam each year,
How you can help
A protest demonstration is being organized by human rights organizations in front of the Pakistan embassy in Washington DC. Please attend. If interested in attending, please call 301-957-0008