“In Pakistan there is justice only for Muslims, justice is denied Hindus. Kill me here, now, in court. But do not send me back to the Darul-Aman ... kill me“

Rinkle Kumari’s impassioned plea rang through the halls of the Supreme Court in March 2012. Kidnapped by the local mafia of Mian Mittho (PPP, MNA) from her village in lower Sindh, Kumari, a Hindu, was forcibly converted to Islam and married to a Muslim boy, Naveed Aslam.

Following this, the entire state structure in collusion with local politicians, religious leaders and the media, worked in unison to subvert justice and legitimize the forced conversion and sexual slavery of Kumari as a religious victory. Rinkle appeared before the Civil Court, Gotki and the Judicial Magistrate, Mirpur Mathelo begging to be returned to the custody of her parents. Both times, her pleas were ignored and she was remanded to the custody of her “husband”.

Mitho’s men dominated the court proceedings, threatening to extort revenge on the thousands of Hindus in Gotki in the event of an unfavorable verdict. They dragged Kumari in and out of court and prevented anyone, including her family, from approaching her. Despite Rinkle’s plea in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Chief Justice instead of sending her back to her family remanded her to the custody of a shelter home for three weeks without contact from anyone to assist her in “making a free decision”. Mian Mitho’s men intimidated the lower staff of the shelter into facilitating meetings with Mian Mithoo’s men and Naveed Aslam during her time at the shelter. After three weeks, Rinkle was presented to the SC wherein she wasn’t allowed to speak but directed to record her statement to the Supreme Court Registrar in his office, where according to unconfirmed reports, Mitho’s men were already waiting for her. It is no surprise, therefore, that she ‘freely’ chose to go with her husband.

Kumari’s case despite the national media attention it attracted is no exception. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), estimates that every month at least 25 to 30 Hindu women are abducted and forcibly converted and married off to Muslim men or forced into prostitution. Hindu women of lower castes are most vulnerable as they are considered sexually available by Muslim men. The practice has experienced a spike in past 5 years given the increasing religiosity in the society. Friday sermons are replete with references to the manifold rewards of spreading Islam to the “non-believing” minorities of Pakistan. Students in madrassahs are routinely ordered by their teachers to spread Islam by marrying Hindu and Christian women. They spend their lives in deplorable situations of sexual slavery and servitude wherein they are denied any contact with their “kafir” family and friends.

Personal and criminal laws in Pakistan recognize and provide remedies for the link between abduction and marriage. The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act of 2006, inserted Section 365B of the Pakistan Penal Code stipulating that no marriage can take place between the abductor and the person abducted as long as the latter remains in power or control of her abductor. However, in instances of forced conversion and marriages, state authorities are often complicit. The general social attitude is in favor of conversions to Islam and this informs the performance of state officials at each stage of the justice process. Victims recording their statements under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are often under duress from abductors who threaten violence upon their families and communities. Victims, such as Rimal Kumari, are escorted to court amidst rose petals and cries of “Allahu Akbar”. They are repeatedly reminded that the penalty for apostasy is death.

The procedure for conversion is well-established and designed to provide legitimacy and immunity to the converting majority. A person seeking to convert to Islam will register him/herself at the local mosque or seminary following which a conversion certificate is issued. Upon attestation the certificate becomes an official document and is often considered as irrevocable proof of a willful conversion and marriage by police and judges. In the absence of any institutional oversight on local seminaries and mosques, certificates are issued readily to abductors without any consultation from the convertee. Records of conversion are thereafter used by institutions for publicity purposes and to raise funds. The Bhurchandi Sharif shrine in Sindh is infamous for converting Sindh’s Hindu women and girls to Islam and reportedly provides legal aid and protection to abductors.

In several cases, Hindu women are previously married. However, these marriages are automatically considered annulled under Muslim personal law upon conversion as held by the Federal Shariat Court in Sardar Masih v. Haider Masih. In the absence of an institutional mechanism to register Hindu Marriages, the women and their families have no record to demonstrate as proof. A bill on the registration of Hindu Marriages has been presented before the National Assembly in 2008, 2011 and 2015. However, the National Assembly has repeatedly deferred approval to the Bill. The lack of political motivation to protect rights of minority women also leaves them without any legal rights to divorce, custody, maintenance and inheritance and any protection from under-age marriages.

Pakistan has repeatedly fail to provide reparation to its “missing women”. Rimal Kumari has not been seen or heard in public consciousness since that fateful day at the Supreme Court. Many others join her ranks every day- screaming yet ominously silent.