November Issue 2019

By | Newsliners | Published 3 weeks ago

Hosted at the t2f and moderated by researcher and activist Nazish Brohi, a panel discussion on the forced conversions of Hindu girls saw an impassioned Amar Sindhu, Anis Haroon and Afiya Zia address a small audience on the issue. Introduced by Brohi, the esteemed panel spoke about different aspects of the issue that has for long plagued Pakistani society.

The first to speak, poet and rights activist Amar Sindhu explained in great detail how forced conversions happen at multiple levels, how the cases differ in upper and lower Sindh; why some cases – mostly those related to upper caste Hindu girls – get more media attention than others; and how certain madrassas in the country are notorious for facilitating these conversions while enjoying a good relationship with the state, that helps shield them from legal prosecution. Sindhu explained how minor girls are often forcefully converted but their cases are presented to be those of free will and getting such girls back to safety becomes impossible. The activist also highlighted the fact that the madrassas that support these conversions enjoy a lot of clout and even the majority is afraid of standing against them, let alone members of the minority community.

Carrying the conversation forward, Anis Haroon rightly pointed out that the white part of the Pakistani flag is nothing more than show and that the treatment of minority communities in Pakistan is worsening by the day. Haroon highlighted how there are no legal procedures in place, that the state almost always looks the other way in such cases and there’s total impunity for perpetrators. She also highlighted how extensive the support group is for those who forcefully convert girls of other religions. She ended her statement by asking for a change in laws and looking into the feasibility of having a government institution issue conversion certificates as opposed to privately run madrassas.

Feminist researcher, activist and author Afiya Zia also spoke about the vulnerability of the Hindu minority residing in Pakistan and how a  false narrative perpetuating the idea of their association with India is  highly damaging to their status in the country. She also emphasised on understanding how “increasing layers of law are not a solution,” unless the idea of majoritarianism is both understood and properly dealt with, considering how it tends to put various minority communities at a disadvantage. Zia also commented on the state narrative, our siege mentality and how we are always more focused on saving the majority from the minority even though it is always the latter community that continues to fight for rights and religious freedom.

The insightful discussion ended with the women on the panel agreeing that laws and research on the subject need to be expanded and that instead of limiting the issue to marriage and sexual relationships it should also be viewed as a problem with very real political and patriarchal motivations behind it.

A journalism graduate, Zoha's core areas of interest include human and gender rights issues, alongside which she also writes about gender representation in the media and its impact on society.