Sindhi Law Against Forcible Conversion Angers Islamists


By Samuel Baid

Islamists, especially Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) led by Hafiz Saeed, in Pakistan are up in arms against Sindh Assembly’s recent legislation which makes forcible conversions punishable by jail terms. The assembly recently adopted the Sindh Communal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2015. It provides for a five-year jail term for perpetrators and facilitators of forced religious conversion. The assembly has also passed the Hindu Marriage Act which indirectly aims to prevent kidnapping forced conversion and marriage to Muslim men of Hindu girls – mostly minors. Forced conversions and threat of conversion in Pakistan, especially in Sindh, provide the background to these laws. The Hindu Marriage Act makes the will of parents a must for the marriage of their children who must be above 18.

Fanatic Islamists see no place in Pakistan for non-Muslim unless they accept the status of “Zimmis” (conquered non-Muslims) in an Islamic State and pay “jazia” (protection tax). However, there is only one instance of forcing the tiny Sikh community in Pakistan’s tribal area to pay Rs.1.5 crores as jazia or face death. That was in 2009. The demand was made by unauthorised Islamists against Sikhs who reside in tribal areas. They have good knowledge of herbs and, therefore, many of them serve tribals as physicians.

There is at least no open campaign to declare non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan “Zimmi” but their persecution may be either to convert or make them serve the Muslims as menials. Among the Islamists for conversions, Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), an officially patronised terrorist group by the Pak Army, have been most disturbed by Sindh’s anti-Conversion law. As if forcing non-Muslims to convert to Islam they believe in their natural right. JuD Chief Hafiz Saeed called this law anti-Islam and against the Constitution of the country. He said he would mobilise support of political parties and religious organisations and launch a movement against this anti-Islam law to force the Sindh government to withdraw it. As if justifying Hindu cleansing through conversion or pushing them out of the country, is his constitutional right. Thus, he parroted Islamists’ allegation that India always tries to use Sindhi Hindus against Pakistan.

There are three main religious minority communities in Pakistan. They are Ahemediyyas, Christians and Hindus. Since 1948, there has been no census in Pakistan. Therefore, the number of Pakistanis can only be guessed. Hindus are estimated to be about 2.5 percent, the targeted religious minority in Pakistan. Christians are 1.6 percent and Ahmediyyas 1 percent of the total population of Pakistan.

Of the three religious minorities Hindus suffered the most at the time of Partition. Old Pakistani Urdu newspapers had carried reports that Sindhi Muslims wanted Sindhi Hindus to leave Pakistan at the time of Partition hoping of they would occupy their land and property but the Pakistan government allotted these to Muhajirs who were rolling in from northern India. Sindhi leader GM Saeed, who along with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had campaigned for Pakistan, was so frustrated that he began a reverse campaign for the disbandment of Pakistan. Once in the mid 1980s, this writer asked him if this story was correct, he fumbled and avoided a direct reply.

Now when Muhajirs became their main enemies, Sindhi Muslims revised their pre-Partition relations with Hindus who were left behind in Sindh after Partition. But his revived relationship did not help Hindus when their girls were kidnapped, forcibly converted and married to Muslim men. This writer has read and heard heart-rending stories of kidnapping of minor Hindu boys and girls by goons who did it with the backing of Mullahs and fanatics. One report in the early 1980, had said parents of two very young girls had gone to a wedding leaving behind their daughters. They returned home to learn that their daughters were no more Hindus and married to Muslim men. The police failed to restore the girls to their parents because a Mullah, surrounded by fanatics, declared “Muslim” children could not be given in the custody of non-Muslim parents.

This writer was told in the 1980s that a girl is kidnapped and converted if she is beautiful, bright in studies or has good professional prospects. A boy is kidnapped if he is good at studies, well-bodied or is talented especially in sports. The idea seems to deprive Hindu community of its cream. In Baluchistan Hindu businessmen are kidnapped not for conversion but for huge ransom. Thus Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan have been running away to India and other countries.

In the coal-rich Tharparkar in Sindh where low caste Hindus like Bheels live in perennial famine-like situation and starvation s and lose their babies because of malnutrition by hundreds every year, Hafiz Saeed has started a chain of madrasas to use human misery for the glory of his faith to convert them. Pakistani Hindus concentrate in Sindh while Pakistani Christians mostly live in Punjab. The pattern of persecution of the two communities is different. In Sindh Hindus are kidnapped and forcibly converted, while in Punjab Christians are attacked not so much to snatch their religion as their land and property. There have been cases of forcible conversion of Christian girls if they happen to be beautiful.

Ahemediyyas, who are also concentrated in Punjab, account for 1 percent of Pakistan’s population. Their post-Partition history is tragic. As Muslims, liked by Jinnah, they played a big role in the creation of Pakistan and the aggression in Kashmir in 1947. But in Pakistan they became the target of Islamic parties who stood for United India and opposed Jinnah’s campaign for Pakistan. They demanded ouster of Ahemediyyas from the pail of Islam and started riots against them in Lahore in 1953. They succeeded in declaring them a non-Muslim minority through the Constitutional Amendment in 1974. Subsequently thousands of Ahmediyyas left Pakistan. In 1984 Gen Ziaul Haq ordered they could not call their places of worship mosques, recite Kalima or give any impressing that they were Muslims.

There are two ways to degrade non-Muslims in Pakistan. Firstly, through the Blasphemy Laws and secondly, through treating them as outcaste and untouchables. The former were made during Gen. Ziaul Haq’s rule mainly to persecute Ahmediyyas for practicing their religion which Islamists called heresy. Sections 295B and 295C of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provide life imprisonment for desecrating the Holy Quran and death for insulting Prophet Mohammad by any means. Fanatics consider the very beliefs of Ahmediyyas as blasphemous. In other words, all Ahmediyyas for them are heretics and blasphemous. Fanatics use the terror of the Blasphemy Laws to try to reconvert them to Islam. But Ahmediyyas are much more educated and well versed in Islamic teaching. They win secret converts. That makes it easy to malign somebody by spreading remarks that a person is an Ahmediyya.

Ahmediyyas run their own schools and madrasas and keep their children educated and firm in their faith. Christians, who ran Pakistan’s top schools, were suddenly deprived of them in1972 when then Chief Martial Law Administrator-cum-President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nationalised education. Christians lost avenues of employment. Poor Christian students who were getting free education were deprived of it and the churches in the complex of which Christian schools existed lost their property. After Gen Zia usurped the power, all nationalised schools, except those which belonged to Christians, were returned to their owners. Those who could leave the country did so. Those, who could not, exist in humiliation mostly to do menial jobs as sweepers and domestic hands. But they won property. This possession is a major cause of why Christians are frequently accused of community blasphemy and hounded away from their houses by frenzied Islamists mostly at the behest of builders. In hotel and dhabas in Sindh, there are reports, a non-Muslim customer has to wash his own plates and glasses because Muslim servants will not touch them.

World’s civilised society and human rights bodies must realise that forcible conversions in Pakistan are not only through kidnapping and threats but, much more seriously, through inflicting object inferiority complex on the country’s minorities. Civil societies in this part of the world should note of Hafiz Saeed’s claim that the law against forcible conversions is anti-Islam.