In May 2021, few Christian nurses from a Christian Hospital in Lahore were accused of committing blasphemy when Muslim nurses from the Government hospital had stormed the Chapel and raised Islamic slogans. Two months before, two Christian nurses were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and even attacked by local hospital staff for allegedly removing a sticker from a medicine cupboard with a verse from Quran. In February 2020, a Christian labourer was killed for drinking from a tube-well as he had ‘polluted it’. In March 2021, a minor Hindu girl was abducted by a local policeman in Sindh province of Pakistan, who then forcefully converted her before marrying her. The local police refused to help. The local Islamic clerics facilitated the marriage of the minor Hindu girl. The family was not even allowed to meet the girl. In January 2020, the revered Nanakana Sahib Gurudwara was attacked by an angry Muslim mob. In September 2020, the daughter of a granthi of the same Nankana Saheb Gurudwara in Pakistan was forcefully abducted and converted, forcing her family to request for passports to leave the country.
These incidents do not come as a surprise to anyone who has been keeping a track of the pitiable condition of minorities in Pakistan. This is a routine affair where minor girls from the Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities are regularly abducted, forcefully converted and then married ‘around.’ After a year or two, only few remain married while rest are sold into prostitution. As per a Forbes article, around 1000 girls from the Hindu and Christian communities are abducted, converted and then trafficked every year. As per another report by the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice, there were 156 incidents of forced conversions of minor girls (as young as 12 years) between 2013 and 2019. This report is considered to be on the conservative side.
The cries of the families of the victims are rarely heard by law enforcement authorities, Pakistani establishment or even the judiciary. At times, the families are slapped with blasphemy charges or even boycotted by their neighbours. The continued victimization, persecution and the creeping massacre of the Hindus and Christians continues unbated in Pakistan despite repeated assurances and grand proclamations by Pakistani establishment led by cricketer turned Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi. Since Prime Minister Niazi took over, 29 blasphemy cases have been slapped against minorities while more than 30 have been killed as per the official records. Unofficially, the figure is likely to be much higher.
The meek surrender of Pakistani establishment
As per Pakistan’s own Human Rights Commission, the successive Pakistani Governments have done little in the past to stop such forced marriages. The Government has refused to take action on the issue of forced conversions despite indictment by Pakistani Human Rights Commission. There have been reports that suggest that Prime Minister Niazi has been reluctant to address the issue of forced conversion fearing backlash from the fundamentalists. In 2016, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2015 to bar conversions of minors. However, the legislation was put on the backburner after a series of protests and Islamic fatwas were issued by the fundamentalists. There were renewed attempts to enact the bill in 2019 but the attempts failed yet again. The bill was defeated in the legislature as even the ministers in the Government that brought the bill voted against it. Despite existing laws, the condition of Hindus in Sindh who are largely landless bonded labours has continued to deteriorate for want of executive actions. The five percent reservation in Government services for minorities is actually filled by departments by reserving the most undesirable jobs (cleaner etc.) exclusively for minorities.
However, the most disheartening aspect of the entire saga is the abject surrender of Pakistani judiciary to the hardliners. In almost all the cases involving Hindus, the judiciary has ultimately given in to the pressure by the local clerics and Islamists. The trend is evident from the Rinkle Kumari case from 2012 when almost every level of judiciary ignored that the Hindu girl was a minor and thus, her marriage was illegal. Despite she begging and crying in the court, all the courts sent her back to her abductor. In 2019, the Islamabad High Court, despite noticing that the conversion and marriage of two sisters from a poor Hindu family looked staged, ultimately allowed the conversion and the marriage legal. In February 2020, the Lahore High Court allowed Muslim men to marry minor girls who had their first menstrual cycle. The order came in a matter where a 14 year old Christian girl was abducted, raped and made pregnant by her abductor. The Court refused to consider her age stating that under Sharia law, she was old enough to marry as she had her first period. In August 2020, another court returned a 14 year old Christian girl to her abductor.
The law is clear that sexual intercourse with a girl below 16 years of age is statutory rape and there is no defence. Yet the law enforcement and judiciary are influenced into inaction by the production of a conversion certificate and a nikahnama (marriage contract).
The condition of the minorities in Pakistan has been pitiable and thus, there has always been a demand and undeniable necessity for the neighbouring countries to offer shelter to the persecuted minorities. It has become evident that the very idea of existence of minorities militates against the central narrative around which the concept of Pakistan as a state has evolved over time. There is no place for minorities in Pakistan.
The long and inglorious history of Pakistan mistreating its minorities along with similar incidents in Afghanistan and Bangladesh led to India enacting Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which fast-tracked citizenship applications of the persecuted minorities- Sikhs, Hindus, Christi-ans, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists. That’s all that this legislation did and yet, there was a full-blown war over it in India. The war within India
In 2019, India passed an act to give fast-tracked citizenship to persecuted minorities – Sikhs, Hindus, Parsis, Jains, Christians and Buddhists who have been the target of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. For Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, India remains the natural and civilizational home. For Christians, it is the only secular and democratic nation in the vicinity they can seek refuge in. It was a simple legislation. Yet, it almost started a civil war in India. The political left in the country termed the bill to be divisive and discriminatory against the Muslims- it left out Muslims from the list of persecuted minorities. They linked it with planned National Register of Citizens (NRC) suggesting that Muslims will be denied citizenship and then relegated to concentration camps. There were riots and violent protests that engulfed the nation leading to many casualties. The cities were shut down and internet snapped. The Indian capital- Delhi was blockaded by the protestors for many months and was subjected four days of unprecedented violence and riots. All this forced the Indian government to take the easiest route- indefinitely and quietly delay the implementation of the legislation without actually withdrawing it. A challenge to the CAA is also pending before the apex court.
However, the vigorous protests that shook India last year failed to take note of a simple fact- laws are made to cure mischief, not to achieve the grandiosity of a utopian society. In an ideal world, no one should be persecuted. But that is not the case here. The argument was made in an isolated utopia unmindful of the fact that Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists are all victims of Islamic fundamentalism which is taking deeper roots in south-Asia, especially in Pakistan. The incidents of persecution of these minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are well-documented. The human rights of these persecuted minorities are being trampled every day. They have lost their rights to live with dignity and integrity. Their livelihoods are at stake and completely at the mercy of hardliners who control the Governments in these countries. They were desperately looking for an escape and the legislation was just that- a humanitarian gesture.
The internal politics of India has yet again diminished the hopes of Pakistani Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus to have a safe haven and a better future for their generations. Their last hope – their civilizational, natural and most desirable home has failed to come to their rescue. The hardliners and Islamic fundamentalists are gaining traction and power in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Taliban continues its march in Afghanistan swiftly. The minorities and their prospects are under tremendous threat as the hardliners hold insurmountable sway on the Governments in these countries. The legislature, executive and judiciary in these countries has abandoned them long ago. And now, India has joined the same inglorious list. India was their hope. By failing to implement the CAA, it has let them down.
(The author is a lawyer practicing in Lucknow and Mumbai.)