Zarina Bheel sacrificed her life to save her daughter from becoming yet another victim of forced conversion to Islam and forced marriage in Sindh.
by Marco Respinti
As denounced by the United Nations, abduction, forced conversion to Islam, and forced marriage to Muslims of Hindu and Christian girls, many of them minor, is a plague in Pakistan, with hundreds of cases every year.
In the city of Ghotki, Sindh, a Muslim man called Usman Lakho, with his relatives and friends Masu Lakho, and Riaz Bhutto, had set his eyes on the daughter of Zarina Bheel, a Hindu woman. They harassed the girl in the streets, and on May 27 they stabbed her brother who was defending her.
On May 28, they entered the house of Zarina Bheel with the purpose of kidnapping her daughter. Zarina put up a fierce resistance, but the assailants had guns and they mortally wounded her and injured her two youngest children. Zarina’s sacrifice was not in vain, as the men retreated without taking her daughter.
A FIR (First Information Report) was filed with the police, and Usman Lakho and Masu Lakho were arrested. Human rights NGOs defending the rights of the minorities posted videos of Zarina’s funeral on social media, and asked for a quick and severe prosecution of the assassins.
However, the problem of kidnapping and forced conversions of young girls from religious minorities remains systemic in Pakistan, and is particularly serious in Sindh. Chanda Maharaj, a 15-year-old girl “adopted” by Bitter Winter, was kidnapped, raped, rescued by the police but sent by a court of law to a shelter home rather than to her parents. She has still not been given back to her family. There is conflicting information about her situation, but there are concerns that she may be given back to her so-called “husband” when the court determines her “biological age” is 18 (there are also unconfirmed reports on social media that this has already happened).
Netizens contrast the case of Chanda Maharaj, whose family is very poor, with the fate of Payal Meghwar, a Hindu girl who was kidnapped in April in the small city of Khanpur, also in Sindh. Payal’s father is a businessman, he was able to make some noise and could afford good lawyers, and happily the court gave back his daughter to him.
In the same area where Zarina was killed, on May 20 a three-year-old young Hindu boy was kidnapped, allegedly for ransom, which sparked new protests by the local Hindu community, which feels the authorities are not effectively protecting Hindus in a region where sectarian tensions appear to be out of control.