Despite Pak rejection of US report on ‘forced conversions of non-Muslims’, condition of minorities remains pathetic

SUNDAY, NOV. 21, 2010 FILE PHOTO FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010 file photo, supporters of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance hold a demonstration against blasphemy laws in Lahore, Pakistan. A court sentenced Mohammad Zulfiqar, 50, to death on blasphemy charges in eastern Pakistan, a government prosecutor said Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Zulfiqar was mentally ill and should not have been tried on the charges, said Kashif Bokhari, who was appointed by the government to plead the case because no one turned up to defend the accused. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)

Although Pakistan has rejected the recent US report on religious freedom violations in the country, data show minorities, especially women in those communities are being subjected horrendous crimes such as rape, forced conversions and physical abuse.

Organisations representing Christian and Hindu communities say that they are being targeted by radical elements in the majority community with impunity. According to them, the US Commission’s report reflects the realities of Pakistan. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), religious freedom conditions in Pakistan “generally trended negative” in 2018.

“During the year, extremist groups and societal actors continued to discriminate against and attack religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims,” the report said. The report also said the government of Pakistan has failed to “adequately protect these groups, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations”.

Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws are used to supress the rights of non-Muslims. “Forced conversions of non-Muslims continued despite the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act, which recognises Hindu family law,” the report said. On the basis of its findings in 2019, USCIRF recommended designating Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

Plight of minorities

According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), each year more than 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are forcibly converted to Islam and forcibly married in Pakistan. A 2014 report by the Movement of Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan says forced conversion and marriage begets further violence as victims are subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking or sale, or domestic abuse.

Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are being misused by the members of the majority community to target hapless minorities. The latest victim of the blasphemy law is Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a veterinarian in the district of Mirpur Khas in the southern province of Sindh. He was arrested and charged with blasphemy after a local radical cleric said he had delivered medicine wrapped in verses from the Quran.  If convicted, Malhi could be face gallows.

Soon after news spread, radical Muslims burnt down shops and houses belonging to Hindus. Malhi is now in judicial custody.

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, had to spend eight years on death row after being found guilty of blasphemy. However, her plight triggered global condemnation. The conviction was later overturned and she was allowed to leave the country for Canada.

Pakistan’s denial

The Pakistan Foreign Ministry has dismissed the USCIRF report. “The report’s segment on Pakistan is a compendium of unsubstantiated and biased assertions. As a matter of principle, Pakistan does not support such national reports making observations on the internal affairs of sovereign States. Pakistan, therefore, rejects these observations,” the Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

“Pakistan is of the view that all countries are obliged to promote religious harmony and have a duty to protect their citizens in accordance with national laws and international norms,” it added.