Report calls the situation of Hindus “informal apartheid,” as rapes and abductions continue.
by Massimo Introvigne
A group of South Asian human rights group, the South Asia Collective (SAC), in a report available through the Web site of the U.S. Department of Justice, focuses among other issues on the violence perpetrated against the Hindu community in the second largest province of Pakistan by population, Sindh.
The most serious problem is the rape, and abduction followed by forced conversion to Islam and marriage to Muslim men, of Hindu girls, “often underage.” Marriage in Sindh is illegal when it involves persons under the age of 18. However, abducted Hindu (and Christian) girls are either submitted to common law marriages under sharia law, or transported to the nearby province of Punjab, where the minimum age of marriage is lower.
To their credit, some local legislators tried to act against this practice, whose victims may be as many as 1,000 girls every year. However, opposition by Muslim religious parties killed a bill that would have made conversion of minors a crime in Sindh. A draft law that would have raised the minimum age for marriage to 18 nationwide, including in Punjab, also met with opposition.
Abductions and forced marriages continue. SAC reports that, “Hindu girls who have been forced into such marriages rarely get justice and the perpetrators of the crime go unpunished due to strong political influence of religious lobbyists and networks whose leaders are also members of the Parliament and include influential clerics.”
There have been also cases of Hindu girls who have been raped, some of whom have committed suicide. In the well-known case of medical student Namrita Chandani, who was found dead in September 2019, a judicial panel concluded that she had committed suicide after she had been raped—her family, however, believes she was murdered.
On September 30, 2020, a 17-year-old Hindu girl called Momal Meghwar jumped into a well in Dalan-Jo-Tarr village in Tharparkar district and died. She had been raped in 2019 and her rapists, who had been freed on bail awaiting their trial, were harassing and threatening her. Reviewing cases of past years, the SAC report mentions that even a six-year-old Hindu girl was raped in the town of Ghulam Nabi Shah.
Some of the victims belong to the lowest caste, the Dalit, and the report focuses on the sad condition of Dalits and other Hindus subject to bonded labor (theoretically illegal in Pakistan) and to what it describes as “informal apartheid.” Many of the girls who are raped or abducted, the report says, belong to these bonded laborers families.
The SAC also mentions that in 2020 the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan visited Sindh, and found evidence that Hindu temples had been confiscated by the local authorities and used for non-religious purposes. One such case happened in Quetta, where a temple located near the Government Sandeman High School for Boys was converted into a science laboratory.
The situation in Sindh has resulted in a continuous influx of Sindhi refugees from Pakistan into India, where there was already a large community of Sindhi Hindus, more than 700,000 of whom had escaped to India after the Partition. A significant part of these refugees lives in camps, often in difficult conditions, notwithstanding the help of Indian and international charities.