Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pakistan's Forced Islamic Conversions - Minorities struggle to save identity

By Emanuel Sarfraz
Two soul stirring news reports have come out in one day about the revelation that forced conversions continue in Pakistan without any check. Member of Kalash community of Chitral, Gul Nazar, speaking in Islamabad the other day gave a desperate SOS call that their culture was being changed and they were being forced to convert to Islam.
Nazar said the media was just showing their dances and not the real challenges faced by the Kalash tribe. Only about 4,000 Kalash people are left. Majority of Kalash people no longer follow their own religion. Some religious groups are active there. She said religious ways of her community are being blocked and names of their places are being replaced with Muslim names such as Qaziabad and Ahmedabad.
The other related story was about the prosecutor who was blamed for asking the under-trial Christian accused of the Youhanabad lynching case to embrace Islam for getting released on bail. He was found guilty of the charge in an inquiry started against him under Punjab Employees Efficiency and Discipline Act. No law of Pakistan could spare them if found guilty but the prosecutor was perhaps trying to give them a chance to change their faith for something that he had in his mind.
Both the stories were disturbing and must have sent shock waves through many people. Till date not a single person has been punished for forcing minorities people to convert. The number of forcefully converted people runs into thousands.
Last year I reported case of a minor girl, Sana Shahid from Sialkot, who was forced to convert by an influential person of the area and was married to his son. The parents of the Christian girl approached the police with documents that their daughter was only 14 years old and could not be forced to convert or marry as she was not an adult. But to no heed. I talked with senior police officers of Sialkot. They all said that justice would be provided, but no arrest was made. The influential people who had converted the girl then got pre-arrest bail from court, which was granted without hearing the other aggrieved party. The girl’s parents are still trying to get justice after the passage of around nine months.
Many cases of forced conversion, usually of women from minority communities, have been reported in KPK, Punjab and Sindh. According to human rights activists many cases are not even reported by the parents of these girls as it all carries a lot of ‘social stigma’ and usually they have other girls and children to take care of. Recently there was a case in Lahore but the father refused to accept publicly that such an incident had even happened. “We got a good proposal for Shazia and it was all done in hurry. She has gone to England with her husband,” said the father.
The stories are endless but the state has not taken any initiative to end this injustice. For Kalash people there have been activists like Maureen Lines who died this April. Her work for saving the culture of Kalash people will never be forgotten. It is hoped her work will be carried on by her followers. I believe it is high time the world take notice of her efforts and declare the Kalash sites under protection of UNESCO. There should be a law that no people from outside the territory can buy Kalash land. The Pakistan government should take practical steps to preserve the Kalash culture and religion. It should legislate to ensure there are no forced conversions and those who are engaged in such activities are punished. Such a step was taken in Sindh but the law could not be made as the religious parties opposed it. The bill against forced conversion was passed by the Sindh Assembly in November but the government later decided to review it. The Sindh governor refused to sign the bill and returned it. The matter has still not been resolved.
Many Pakistanis continue to languish in Immigration Detention Centres of different countries. From Europe to the countries of Pacific Rim these Pakistanis are mostly asylum seekers who want to seek refuge in these countries or are seeking repatriation to some other country. The number of these Pakistanis is in thousands. Though many of them could be in search of greener pastures, but many many complaints are about forced conversion. It is time the government looked into the matter seriously to improve Pakistan’s image in the world and to provide justice to minorities.

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