Despite having numerous unsettled questions about the working model for Pakistan, the entire nation unanimously accepts that the state was formed as a laboratory of Islam where the principles and teachings of Islam could be implemented in letter and spirit. However, with the passage of time, our people and rulers have unlearned the basic teaching of Islam taught to us by the Quran and Holy Prophet (PBUH) i.e. it disapproves of any sort of coercion in the matters related to religion altogether and respects human free will. The founding fathers of Pakistan were very clear about the matters related to state-religion and advocated the freedom to follow religion for every citizen. However, the state created in the name of Islam which is house to almost 207 million people out of which Hindus and Christians collectively comprise 3.1 percent of the total population is under the threat of forced conversions and religious extremism. In Pakistan, the majority of the Hindu population (i.e. 6.8 million) animates in the Sindh province owing to its cultural and historical affiliation with the region. And this is where this brutal practice is being carried out by the so called propagators of the religion.

Recently, the US has declared Pakistan as a country of ‘particular concern’ for having involved in/or accepted systematic ongoing and egregious violation of religious freedom. According to the report published by US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pakistan failed in fortifying its minorities and guaranteeing religious freedom. The ministry of foreign affairs in Pakistan has declared this label as ‘arbitrary and unilateral’ for selectively targeting some countries while ignoring the rest. However, the statistics quoting the number of incidences of forced conversions to Islam show a different picture altogether. According to a report by South Asia partnership-Pakistan and Aurat Foundation, at least one thousand Hindu girls in Pakistan are kidnapped, forcibly converted and married off to their kidnappers every year. Similar data has been reported by the University of Birmingham’s Lawyer Amarnath Motumal of the HRCP. His report informed that no less than 20 Hindu girls are kidnapped and proselytised every month in Pakistan.

Ironically, Pakistan is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which clearly endorses the right of every woman to enter into marriage ‘only with their free and full consent’ but the present situation of the Hindu women in Pakistan clearly shows the ugly side of the picture. Pakistan is badly failing in achieving her commitments under these contracts and saving her minorities from forced conversions and marriages. There are a number of factors that make the Hindu community in Sindh more prone to forced conversions than the rest of the country. These factors include their stark socio-economic conditions, strong missionary zeal for conversion, lack of access to justice, failure of the Sindh criminal law (protection of minorities) bill, inadequate legislation on the registration of Hindu marriages, etc.

In our in-egalitarian society, there exists huge inequality where a class of society enjoys a privileged status and liberty while others even struggle for recognition of their basic rights. The lack of financial empowerment makes the poverty-ridden Hindu population particularly at risk of proselytisation. Similarly, the conservative clergy portrays forced conversion analogous to ‘hajj-e-Akbar’ that will bring rewards in akhirat (hereafter), irrespective of the methods employed to achieve the course of conversion. Extremist Clerics like Mian Mitho and Ayub Jan Sarhandi have become renowned veritable ciphers of proselytisation in Sindh who manipulate their followers to employ every means possible to ‘confirm their tickets to paradise’. Also, minor Hindu girls choose conversion as a means to realize their aspirations of a better life and put an end to their miserable existence.

There are a number of steps that must be taken by the government to protect the rights of minorities in Sindh in particular and Pakistan in general. The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill which could not be passed as the house with 171 members were held hostage by a bunch of religious zealots should be passed to make it a Law across the country. This can be achieved by promoting a national level dialogue Engaging clergy and the general public to avoid further conversions and create inter-faith harmony in the society by tackling human rights abuse. Judicial and police system should be reformed for fast response to the matters related to proselytisation. The government should also ruminate over launching Provincial Commissions for minorities to take up forced conversion and forced marriage cases and guarantee religious minorities’ access to education, jobs, and government positions through passing anti-discriminatory laws.

In conclusion, every state has the responsibility of protecting its people from individuals and organizations that try to convert people by resorting to coercion or exploitation of the particular vulnerability of people. The government of Pakistan has an obligation to ascertain that forced conversions do not occur in the milieu of marriage or marriage negotiations which can be achieved by including people in the process of national development irrespective of their religion and creed. It is high time our people should learn the lesson that it’s their behaviour, not religion that makes them better humans.