The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday suggested that forcible religious conversions should be declared a crime, considering that about 1,000 non-Muslim girls are converted to Islam each year in Pakistan, according to a report from the Movement for Solidarity and Peace. Just this year 3,000 applications for migration of Pakistani Hindus are pending approval with the Indian embassy.

Sadly, although the Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens in Pakistan, religious minorities to this day remain persecuted and discriminated against. This was proven again when the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) strongly opposed legislation on forced conversion. Perhaps the aforementioned ministry and the CII think it is honourable to bring ‘new converts’ into the fold of Islam; forcibly or not, that is not of relevance. Or better yet the Pakistani Hindus that live in the southern province of Sindh and belong to lower castes, whose daughters are kidnapped for ransom or are forcibly converted to marry Muslim men, should be thankful to the perpetrators for saving their daughters soul from hellfire.

While addressing the committee, MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar pointed out that the absence of the Hindu Marriage Act is one of the reasons increasing the rise in forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam for marriages. A draft Hindu Marriage Act has been pending since January 2014 despite repeated insistence of the Supreme Court, but the authorities concerned are apathetic to the plight of the Hindu community. The Hindu marriage law must be passed before further delay to address this injustice.

A manual on Hindu family laws must be developed to provide protection to families. The government should set up a separate shelter home for forcefully converted girls of religious minorities. Discrimination against minorities is witnessed in educational textbooks that do not highlight the heroes belonging to religious minorities. It is about time as the minorities of Pakistan be first accepted as who they essentially are; Pakistanis.