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Upal Kohli | HENB | Karachi | Jan 7, 2017:: In a bizarre setback for religious freedom, the Sindh governor, under pressure from Islamic hardliners, yesterday called off a bill that criminalises ‘forced religious conversions’.
In fact, the governor returned the bill on the advice of the Sindh chief minister no less. The chief minister reportedly told the governor that the government wanted certain changes in the language of the bill, The News International reported. The protection of minorities bill was passed by the Sindh Assembly unanimously in November 2016.
The Civil rights activists in Pakistan – which is not a secular state but an Islamic one – said that incidents of abduction and forced conversion of underage Hindu girls were on the rise and therefore such a bill was essential. But the religious right, including the Council of Islamic Ideology, called the bill unconstitutional and un-Islamic and said it was against Sharia, or Islamic law.
In Pakistan there are around 3.2 million Hindus out of 195 million total population+, most of which reside in the province of Sindh. These 1.6% Hindus in Pakistan are facing an existential threat under the onslaught of Radical Islam. The Human Rights crusaders and a section of liberal Muslim groups wanted to enact an ‘ anti conversion bill’ so that the living fossil Hindus in Pakistan cannot be shown as some objects in the museum very soon.
The Islamic zealots, including several political parties, opposed the bill because it says ‘no one under the age of 18 can convert to Islam even out of their free will’. Essentially, the provision in the bill also wanted to ensure that no underage person would be coerced or brainwashed to convert.
Those opposing the bill also said this provision is against the teachings of Islam and violates the Pakistani Constitution as Pakistan is virtually an Islamic country.
According to the bill, those who attempt forced conversions would get seven years in jail and those who facilitate them would get five year behind bars. The bill also said that adults considering changing their religion must be provided a safe house to live in for 21 days, to ensure they are making the decision to convert without anyone’s coercion.
When talk began last month about repealing the bill or watering down its provisions, several non-Muslims and civil rights activists cautioned against such a move, saying it would show Pakistan in a bad light.
“The main issue faced by our community is forced conversions as the kidnapped girls ultimately submit to the key demand of the kidnappers – convert and marry a Muslim,” said Pakistani Parliamentarian Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council, to the media last month. “There is currently no law regarding Hindu marriage, as a result, our marriages are not registered anywhere,” said the lawmaker who’s a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N).
In December last year, Asad Iqbal Butt, provincial vice chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that reservations of religious scholars were nothing but “arm-twisting tactics which they use whenever a progressive step is taken.” He said the government should not bow to the “religious might and stand firm on its decision to pass the bill without a review. The bill is fine as it is.”
Now, it is very much clear that Islamists in Pakistan are opposing ‘anti conversion bill’ in Sindh legislature only to keep alive the provisions of ‘forced conversion’ in Islam.