Correcting a Crime


Karachi court returned custody of a 15-year old Hindu girl to her parents after her father filed a case against Mohammed Rashid, who kidnapped Ramila and later solemnised his marriage with her after forcing her to convert to Islam. In an earlier hearing, Ramila claimed that the decision to leave her parents’ house was made out of her own volition but this proved to be very far from the truth. Ramila’s case is rare-typically, victims of forced conversions do not have the means to access legal recourse and are largely ignored if they choose to go down that road.
Forced conversions of kidnapped Hindu girls are routine and endemic in Sindh-girls as young as 12 have been abducted from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes and made to marry men who are often twice their age. Religious authorities and local security forces are often complicit, and typically express no inclination to help victims. The police often turns a blind eye to reports of abduction and forced marriage, empowering perpetrators to do whatever they please. Islamic clerics trusted with performing the marriage typically do not investigate the nature of these conversions either even when the girl is visibly underage.
Despite numerous calls to end forced conversions from human rights organisations in and outside Pakistan, the government has failed to issue federal legislation to address the issue. The court system routinely enables offences against religious minorities by accepting fraudulent evidence from perpetrators.
Successive Pakistani governments have failed to criminalise forced conversions over fears of backlash from religious conservatives. In October 2021, a parliamentary committee scrapped a proposed bill for outlawing the practice, citing ‘an unfavourable environment’ when it was rather evident that the bill was scrapped due to pressure from hardline political elements in the country. The state’s failure to protect religious minorities from abuses by non-state actors has only increased the incidence of forced conversions. On the other hand, the frequency of hate crimes against religious minorities increases by the day with no legislation in place to protect those affected.