Minority rights and gender equality are at the centre of contemporary human rights discourse. A number of declarations make it a prerequisite for the international community make it an elementary human rights responsibility of a state to protect the dignity and rights of women, irrespective of any criteria. In Pakistan though, the plight of the minority women represents the worst form of suffering and discrimination, a women can endure.
Women of the minority community, especially those belonging to the Hindu community face a tormented life in Pakistan. Pakistan is home to about two million Hindus, most of who live in the southern province of Sindh and belong to lower castes. While upper-caste Hindus complain of their traders being kidnapped for ransom, lower-caste Hindus say their daughters are being targeted. Hindus in Pakistan are a scared and vulnerable minority and forced conversion is an example of their vulnerability, especially when it occurs to their women.
There is no hope for justice. Sumbal Bai, a Hindu worker at a local thread-making factory, said her daughter, Sanam, was abducted two years ago at the age of 18. One of Sanam’s co-workers, a Muslim boy, drugged her into unconsciousness and whisked her to Khanewal, Punjab,” When Sanam’s father and brother attempted to rescue her; they discovered the abductors had financial clout and political connections.
Even more concerning is the fact that some Muslim leaders consider it an honour to convert non-Muslim girls. When Hindu girls are kidnapped, forcibly converted and married to Muslims, the police, government and courts all turn a blind eye. Since there has never been a court ruling on forced conversions in support of the aggrieved Hindu families, there is no precedent to deter the crime. In what further exposes the plight of the minority hindu women in Pakistan, married hindu women are forcibly remarried in Pakistan. In a shocking incident in September 2016, a young married Hindu woman was forcefully remarried to a 56-year-old man from her community by local elders in Pakistan’s Sindh province.
The international community must immediately ask the Government of Pakistan to implement meaningful constitutional and legal reform to ensure equality and religious freedom for all Pakistanis, and urge Pakistani officials to enact legislation to protect minorities from abductions and forced conversions and to initiate a formal inquiry into the issue of kidnapping and forced conversion of minorities. This is an issue which the international community cannot simply ignore.