By Sheetal Kumari*
Forced conversion has always remained a security concern for the women belonging to the minority communities in Pakistan. Every year, women belonging to the minority are abducted and forcefully converted by religious extremist forces. According to the Pakistan Bureau of statistics, the overall population of the Hindu community in Pakistan is 1.60%, while it is 6.51% in Sindh. The Hindus have been facing the issue of forced conversion of their young Hindu girls in Sindh. The problem is exaggerated by the deafening silence from the government’s side, which makes these acts more potent and painful for the minorities to bear.
Every few days, we hear another story of forced conversions. These stories highlight the horrors lurking in the society for the minorities of Pakistan. One such story is of Aakriti* and Saanvi* Two Hindu sisters abducted and converted in 2021 in Larkana, Sindh.
On the 3rd of April, 2021, a 22-year-old Hindu girl named Aakriti, who used to work at a beauty parlor, went missing from the Ali Gohar Abad area in Larkana. When Aakriti, Namo’s* daughter, did not return from the beauty parlor, the family set out to file an FIR. After launching an FIR, Aarti was recovered from Karachi on 9th April,2021 along with a boy named Muhammad Fawad, who hailed from Karachi and claimed to be A husband. Aakriti was brought to Lakana session court along with Fawad, who claimed to be her husband.
When I approached her 35 years old neighbor- Priya*, who lives in the same area, on 15th January 2022 in an interview, she said, “Aakriti went to a party with her friends in a village. However, she did not return that day. She added that while hearing in the High court, Aakriti was not permitted to meet her parents. Such incidents not only created fear in the Hindu community but affected the community at a psychological level for many days”.
In an interview with another neighbor, 37-year-old Sheetal shared, “Aakriti was kept in Darul Aman where she was not allowed to meet her parents. She further said that this ongoing victimization of young Hindu girls is forcing them to leave the country”.
Having tears in his eyes, the victim’s father, while speaking to a media Channel, said that the police called us after she was brought to the session court. The police did not inform us when she was brought to Larkana from Karachi or when they traced her location in Karachi. He further added that his daughter looked depressed and under pressure while stating about going to Darul Aman in court. Moreover, he said that this is not a way to abduct and later on convert our girls. It does not suit our Muslim brethren to go against the teachings of their last Prophet and convert our girls by force.
The lawyer from Aakriti’s side told the media that the judge’s remarks in the case looked biased and one-sided. We asked the judge for the medical checkup of the girl to inquire if she had been tortured, but our request was denied, the lawyer told. Furthermore, he added that we do not know why our appeal for a medical checkup of the girl was dismissed, we can’t say for sure whether the judge was under threat or there were pressures from the powers, but for all intents and purposes, the ruling authority seemed unfair. Similarly, he added that the girl looked in fear while speaking to the judge. He raised an important question: how did the girl reach Karachi when the FIR was launched on the day she went missing? He wondered why did the Police not take stringent steps at the check posts. According to him, the investigation done by the Police and the decision made by the Judge was not fair or neutral at the last hearing of the case.
A Hindu lawyer Kalpna Devi who was present at the court on the 22nd of April, 2021 told the media that, “the decision was made as usual and like always, it was given in the favor of the abductors.” She added that the National identity card of the girl was not available neither her age was determined, nor her medical checkup was permitted. She was of the view that “we (the Hindu minorities) should either commit suicide or should leave this country when such injustices are done by departments and authorities”.
On the 17th of April 2021, Muhammad Jawad*, the claimed husband of Aakriti after conversion, told the media that Aakriti herself came for converting to Islam. He observed the girl for two days, and then he invited her to accept Islam and marry him. He was asked why he did not inform her parents before converting her to Islam? He added that he discussed it with lawyers in Karachi and later on confirmed her age from the matriculation certificate from her school in Larkana because her national identity card was not available. “After confirming her age and seeking permission from her I wed her by performing nikkah with her, “he stated.
It is painful for the parents who lost their two young daughters at the hands of religious extremists in the same year. After I heard this case from her neighbors, I came to know that after five months, Namo had to go through the loss of his second daughter Saanvi, who went missing in September 2021 while going to Resham Gali Bazar in Larkana. When Namo,s 24-year-old daughter Saanvi did not return, the family set out to find her.
Saanvi went to Resham Gali Bazar to shop for her marriage scheduled for November 2021, said her father Namo Mal while giving an interview to BTV news in Larkana, “I rushed home as soon as I heard that Saanvi has not returned yet,” he added. He said, “ late-night, she sent messages on WhatsApp to her brother saying that I am safe and would meet you the next day, but the next day we received the same messages from her telling us that she is safe and would return home soon”.
Namo shared, “Our first daughter was already kidnapped a few months ago from a beauty parlor on 3rd April 2021 that affected my wife, but now she is in huge pain after the loss of her second daughter”. He told the media that upon inquiring and tracing her mobile, her location was traced at the house of Lagari Sahib (relative of Ali Zeeshan), but when we tried to reach out, Lagari Sahib was not present at his location.
The friends of Saanvi and Zeeshan Ali S/O Zulifqar Ali Lagari are relatives of Lagari Sahib, where the location of Saanvi was traced after she went missing. The presence of Saanvi at that location sent alarm bells ringing. Although she was with her friends, the family, with their prior experience, realized that this was another case of forced conversion.
Saanvi’s father stated, “We did not register any FIR, nor did we protest because we did not get any justice in the case of our first daughter Aarti. We do not hope from the Government side for any fair decision”. He further added that she called us on Sunday, saying not to make any FIR and release the brother of Lagari because I am facing threats on behalf of you and myself. “We asked her to come back. We are not going to make any FIR,” said her father. “How do I come back? They have cheated me and are beating me now,” said Saanvi to her father.
A statement given by Saanvi in a video released on the 5th of September, 2021,“I Saanvi Chawla daughter of Namo have accepted Islam wholeheartedly and had married Zeeshan Ali. I have contacted my parents from the very first day and shared my documents on WhatsApp. Despite that, the Police and my parents are pressurizing and harassing me. I request the government should provide me security”.
However, it has been concluded from these stories that forced conversion of young Hindu girls have become the norm in the province of Sindh. Being the largest minority community in Pakistan, Hindus have been struggling to get justice for their daughters at provincial and national levels. The silence from the government side and biased decisions from courts have paved ways for the extremist forces for abduction and conversion of minority girls in the country. Many fathers like Namo have lost their daughters, and many have left the country already.
*Note : The names of the victims, interviewees and the author have been changed for the protection of their identities