The parliament’s sluggish pace in notifying the joint parliamentary panel on forced conversions shows the level of interest that all political parties have in protecting the right of minorities. At the very least, the parliament can be appreciated for looking to work on measures to solve this issue. However, there is still a long way to go before this panel is even functional. A chairperson has not been appointed as of yet, nor has the parliament decided on the terms of reference that will govern the functions of this committee. With the first meeting date still to be decided, one can expect more delays till this panel starts becoming operational.

Given the state of minority rights in the country, this is a much-needed step. As has been pointed by learned members of the committee, the problem of forced conversions is not only limited to Sindh as is commonly believed. Punjab also has cases of forced conversions and marriages of girls as young as nine years old. Nor is this an issue that only limited itself to the Hindu community in Pakistan. Other minority groups, such as the Christian community are also adversely affected. Pakistan was formed to give a separate homeland for Muslims, but the founding father and other leaders of the independence movement never envisioned a country that was exclusively home to Muslims only.

State institutions are complicit by their actions – or lack thereof – in allowing forced conversions to continue in the country. The police, in particular, must share the blame, for both looking the other way in certain cases, and even fabricating evidence to support the claims of those that are orchestrating these conversions in the first place. Surely girls between the age of nine to fourteen cannot be expected to have the necessary information to decide on which faith they want to espouse and those in the force that actually claim that the conversions were voluntary must be punished for subverting the rights of those they swore to protect.

The government’s recent measure to open the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims to visit religious sites is more in line with Pakistan’s all-inclusive ideology. And it is hoped that this panel will ensure that we move towards more tolerance and acceptance of all faiths, not just a select few. The government needs to take steps that can provide a safe environment for all minorities to live without fear.