Conceived as a big blow to minority Christians and Hindus in Pakistan, the Government of Sindh province has rejected proposed legislation that punished forced conversions with the jail term, including life imprisonment.
This bill was adopted by the provincial assembly of Sindh in November last year and was welcomed by the minority Hindus and Christians as a real breakthrough to guarantee full freedom of belief and a strong deterrent against forced conversions.
According to AsiaNews, the Hindu and Christian activists expressed great disappointment over the rejection of this bill describing this as a ‘dangerous step backwards’.
“We can do nothing to prevent kidnappings and conversions of our underage daughters,” said Mukhee Lal Chand, president of the Hindu General Panchayat (Assembly) in Jacobabad District. “This is really an injustice. We really needed this law”.
Forced conversion to Islam, especially of girls, is a real scourge among Pakistan’s eight million Hindus. According to a report by Asian Human Rights Commission, at least 1,000 Pakistani girls are forced into Muslim marriages and made to convert to Islam annually.
Last week, Sindh Governor Saeeduzzaman Siddiqi rejected the Sindh Minorities Rights Commission Bill. Nand Kumar, a Muslim Member of the Sindh Assembly, had proposed the bill.
Under the new piece of legislation, anyone convicted of forced conversion would have to serve five years or life in prison. Forced conversion is common in Islamic marriages with the non-Muslim bride compelled to embrace her husband’s religion.
In the case of minors, the law would have required that no person should be deemed to have changed his or her religion until they attained the age of maturity, namely 18 years.
After the law’s adoption, Islamist parties criticised it as “anti-Islamic” and demanded its immediate repeal.
Senator Siraj ul Haq, a leader with the Jamaat-e-Islami, slammed the legislation as “an attempt to create unrest between Muslims and minorities.”
Thirteen lawmakers involved in drafting the bill, including three ministers, received death threats.
For Peter Jacob, a Catholic who heads the Centre for Social Justice, the rejection of the law goes against freedom of religion.
“We urge the Sindh Government to stay focused on social divisions,” he said. At the same time, “we ask for the support of the Pakistan People’s Party in government. Those protesting have neither studied their religion, nor the Constitution of Pakistan.”
“Who has claimed the right to review the law does not own the whole of Sindh Province,” said Nasira Javed Iqbal, a former judge and Islamic human rights activist. “Everyone should take a stand on the minorities’ bill.”