Pakistan, a country whose founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had often paid utmost importance to minorities, is becoming home to forced conversions and marriages. Every year, several hundred young Christian and Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam and sometimes married off too. The increasing radicalization in the country is making life harder and harder for the 10% non-Muslims living in it. they have no or very less recourse in the face of violence.
A 13-year-old Christian girl Arzoo was abducted from outside her home by a 44-year-old Muslim Ali Azhar who later married her forcefully. He also forced her to convert to Islam before marrying her out of her will. Protests have erupted across major cities of Pakistan seeking justice for the girl. On 28th October 2020, the Archbishop of Karachi Cardinal Joseph Coutts called on Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and civil society representatives to record their protest at this heinous crime. They raised their voices against the abduction and brutal forced marriage of an innocent 13-year-old girl by an old Muslim. They asked for justice with a due process from Sindh government authorities, police and judiciary.
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace calculates that annually up to 1,000 young Christian and Hindu girls aged between 12 and 25 are abducted by Muslim men, forcibly married and converted in Pakistan. The discrimination against women and girls belonging to religious minorities is much worse than the minor men. They have been the victims of rape, abduction, forced marriages and conversions. It is mostly the underage girls from religious minorities who are converting to Islam rapidly.
The Sindh government has attempted to outlaw forced conversions and marriages twice under the Protection of Minorities Bill. In 2016, the bill was unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly but the orthodox religious groups objected to it. So it was eventually put down. In 2019, a revised version of bill was proposed which was once again objected by the religious parties.
Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which clearly states that the right freedom of religion includes the right to change one’s religion solely on their own will. Pakistan has failed to comply with its international obligations to protect non-Muslim women and girls from exploitation by powerful groups and criminal elements.
This incident should haunt the consciousness of our nation. It is beyond belief how can someone so young give her consent for marriage, let alone a man who is thrice her age. The legality towards this incident aggravates its appalling nature and that we have accepted the rape of minors as a nation. Worsening the situation is that the crime was carried out by a Muslim man. The religious factor somehow makes it okay for the orthodox leaders to declare it as a victory for Islam rather than accepting it as a crime.
The religious aspect linked with this incident makes it harder for people to be outraged since we have not learnt to even mourn, let alone stand up, for religious minorities. Our indifference to the suffering of marginalized communities shows we continue to deny the humanity of others who are different to us, a form of tribalism unworthy of the 21st century.
It is easier for us to point fingers at the West for being crooked but it is difficult for us to accept the evil that stays within us. If we don’t raise our voices at the brutality committed against a young and minor girl, we will ourselves become part of the crime and the evil.