PM Imran Khan Must Deliver On Minorities' Rights

PM Imran Khan Must Deliver On Minorities' Rights
Pakistan is a religiously diverse country. Hindus, Christians and Sikhs are the three main minority communities of Pakistan. Since the inception of this “land of the pure,” religious minorities are facing prejudice. The Constitution of Pakistan permits minorities to practice their religion freely. Moreover, Pakistan is signatory to several international treaties that protect the fundamental rights of minorities, including religious liberty.

Forced conversion and coerced marriage of minor girls hailing from the minority communities is emerging as one of the major issues faced by minorities. In fact, forced conversion cases are surging day by day. In feudal settings and backward areas of Pakistan, abduction, rapes, and forced conversion coupled with forced marriage have become trends. Like wildfire, this evil is spreading across the country and adding to misery of minorities, especially that of the underage non-Muslim daughters of Pakistan.

Recently, the head of the parliamentary committee on forced religious conversions, Senator Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, said that most cases of forced conversion “have some degree of willingness on the part of the girl.” He added that the conversion for the sake of better lifestyle cannot be considered as forced, as it involves a certain kind of consent. This statement is thought-provoking as it gives rise to many questions.

One such question is: why would it be that minor boys hailing from the poor, depressed minority groups are not converting to Islam and marrying for the sake of such a better future? The fact of the matter is that in our patriarchal society, the honour of a family or community is associated with the women. So, looking through the traditional Pakistani lens, it is a blatant attack on the honour and dignity of religious communities in general, and non-Muslim girls in particular – perhaps even a deliberate attempt to further tarnish the image of non-Muslims. In addition, such statements on the part of representatives of the government are giving an opportunity to malicious elements living in our society to sexually abuse minor girls and then legitimize it by calling it willful conversion.

In a bid to curb this menace, the Sindh government took an initiative in 2016, by passing an Anti Conversion Bill, which outlawed the conversion of juveniles. This bill faced backlash by some groups who perceive it as being antithetical to Islamic law. Again in March 2019, politician Nand Kumar made an abortive attempt to get the Protection of Minorities Bill passed. This time even the PTI-led federal government opposed it by citing it as contrary to Islamic law. Before taking the office of Prime Minister, Imran Khan had promised to prevent forced marriages.

This year, the Imran Khan-led government has successfully completed two years and still nothing has been done in this regard. Perhaps he has forgotten his promise. Now, minorities living in Pakistan are looking towards him and waiting for him to make Pakistan a Riyast-e-Madinah; where, they can heave a sigh of relief, where underage girls belonging to religious minorities will no longer sexually exploited and forcefully converted.

Pakistan lectures the world on breaches of human rights in Kashmir and Palestine, while the infringement of human rights is rampant in Pakistan itself. The Pakistani government raises the issue of Muslim rights in Europe and India, while ignoring the oppression of minorities within Pakistan.

If we cannot save our own daughters who happen to be non-Muslim, then we lose all rights to speak against the exploitation of daughters of Eve in Kashmir and Palestine.

All political parties and religious groups living in Pakistan should unite and speak with one voice, resoundingly and with conviction, for eradication of the evil of forced conversions.