The Sindh Assembly has been exceeding expectations by passing controversial bills that work towards ensuring the rights of minorities. After the passing of the Hindu Marriage bill in February this year, it has now adopted a bill against forceful religious conversions. The bill endorses a five-year punishment for perpetrators, whereas facilitators of forceful religious conversions will be handed a three-year sentence. It is commendable that the assembly is setting examples for the rest of the county to follow. It is only hoped that these bills will be implemented in practicality, beyond just the scope of legislation, and will end the discrimination and oppression that minorities face on a daily basis.

Under the newly passed bill, forcibly converting a minor is also a punishable offence.

Adults will be given 21 days to consider their decision to convert, an important clause to consider as many are forced into conversion due to external pressure, duress or threats that could come in the form of physical emotional or psychological coercion. The South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, released a report in collaboration with the Aurat Foundation in July 2015 stating that at least 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year, many of which happen in Sindh, that has an overwhelming majority of Hindus concentrated in the province.

The Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs earlier in June set the foundation for this bill and termed forced conversions “illegal” and against the principles of Islam. Senator Gian Chand earlier admitted that police do not take action in cases of forced conversion “fearing the reaction of the Muslim community.” This is the mentality that law enforcement agencies have to work against. The issue of conversion itself is a highly controversial one, where the general belief is that converting a non-Muslim into a believer is the highest honour possible. To implement this bill means to change the very fabric of society and a lot more can be done before Sindh can boast of protecting its minorities.