Will Pakistan continue to fail its non-Muslim men and women?

Published: June 18, 2016

Hindus, Sikhs and Christians came out to protest the alleged forced conversion and marriage of a Hindu teenager from Mirpur Mathelo in Karachi. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Every year in Pakistan over a thousand non-Muslim women are forced to convert to Islam.

The stories of forced conversions tend to have a similar pattern. First, the girls are abducted. Once taken away from the safety of their homes and communities they are raped and then, usually, married off to their assailants who sneakily shield their non-consensual sexual assault behind the veil of a nikkahnama. Sometimes they are sold into the sex trade.

These girls rarely ever return to their families. Help from the police and local clerics is pretty much unheard of. Both parties are either in on the barbaric practice of forced conversions or silent encouragers from the side-lines.

Life lived in fear of being the next to be taken has put many of these girls out of school and the workforce. Retreating into their homes means some semblance of security. After all, if your community, neighbourhood, city and country have all failed you – where does one go? And if the police, learned religious clerics, the neighbours, and the government have turned a blind eye to your plight – who does one turn to?

Promising, progressive and probably improbable

This week news broke of Nand Kumar Goklani, a Hindu member of the Sindh Assembly, successfully tabling two private member bills. Aptly titled, the Sindh Minority Rights Commission bill and the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) bill, Goklani hopes these bills, which have already faced some delay in May, will be passed during the on-going budget session or right after.

The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) bill tackles forced conversions directly. By making it illegal for a person under the age of 18 to change their religion, and by providing adults 21 days to make an independent decision on whether they do, in fact, wish to adopt a new faith. The proposed bill hopes to counter the current practice whereby a victim shows up in front of a court, with little to no security, and testifies she converted independently and/or because she was in love with her perpetrator.

In its current form, the proposed law is promising and progressive. It comes with several built-in special measures that would heighten protection of a victim of a marriage based on forced conversion. It grants the alleged convert an option to study comparative religions. It places a ban on reporting names or the locations of the alleged convert to increase protection of her and her family. It promises heightened security for the prosecution, its witnesses, and investigating officers. Most importantly, it promises a punishment to fit the crime: if a marriage is deemed to have been performed on the basis of a forced conversion, the court can fast-track divorce proceedings. Individuals found guilty of forceful conversion face a minimum five-year sentence that can extend to a life sentence. And those, such as the police or religious clerics, who are found guilty of making the marriage happen, face a minimum three-year sentence.

Promising and progressive, right?


With the unfortunate caveat that the implementation of such legislation is a far-off and very improbable dream. In fact, based on Pakistan’s track record of introducing promising, progressive laws that then go on to collect dust on the shelves of law libraries, sadly, it is all too probable these legislations will go on to do the same.

Just like Shoaib Mansoor’s film Bol attempted to address every social ill known to Pakistan in a three-hour tearjerker film, Pakistan is notorious for promising legislation targeting every social ill affecting the aam admi (common man).

But poor implementation or, in many cases, a complete failure to implement, has rendered even the best of Pakistan’s policies worthless. Implementing legislation sounds like a no-brainer. A law is proposed, the law is approved, and the law is implemented. Simple, right?

Not in Pakistan.

Take for instance our country’s environmental protection laws. We have some of the best of their kind. Bet you didn’t know this as you sit reading with your phone charging in preparation for the inevitable daily power outages. That’s because despite having some of the best environmental protection laws on paper, the nation’s environmental protection agencies remain so weak and overrun by corruption that power theft continues unabated and unchecked.

But you, the intelligent reader are prone to noticing spurious correlations, and are likely thinking ‘load-shedding, the environment, and large-scale corruption… what do these things have to do with kidnapping a Christian girl from Jacobabad, forcing her to convert to Islam, and then raping her, or marrying her, or doing away with her completely by selling her off into the sex trade’?

Then let us consider laws more relevant to the protection of women including the hypothetical Christian girl from Jacobabad. In 1996, Pakistan ratified The Convention of Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – an international legislation. An abysmal ten years later and many of CEDAW’s legislative measures remain unimpressively unimplemented.

Okay, but that was 1996.

Ab kya purani baaton ko uchal na?

(Why juggle with old news?)

Back to the year 2016.

The year of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy who took home an Oscar this February for her documentary, A Girl in the River, an exposé on honour killings in Pakistan. All the international attention and accolades got our prime minister excited and high on promises to change the country’s archaic laws which currently allow families to murder their daughters in the name of ‘family honour’ and pretty much walk away scot-free without punishment.

Unfortunately, as news surface this week of yet another girl burned alive – by her mother nonetheless – for marrying against her wishes. It seems that our PM has forgotten (or was forced to forget) to follow through on what is a key component of the law making process: implementation.

Not our first rodeo

The Sindh Assembly’s proposed legislations are promising and progressive but they are not new news.

Two years ago the Supreme Court of Pakistan came out with a very important ruling which, much like the Sindh Assembly’s two proposed bills, on paper appeared to have the power to put an end to the injustices faced by non-Muslims in Pakistan.

The Supreme Court judges were thoughtful enough to draft their judgment in the simplest of words (as a lawyer, I can personally testify how difficult of a task it is for us lawyers to un-lawyer). This ruling was written simply so it could be accessible to all levels of confused bigots. It defined religious freedom in the broadest and clearest terms. It declared the right to practice one’s religion – whether it be Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Scientology – as a most fundamental, untouchable right. But all the confused bigots still misread (or failed to read) this simple yet powerful ruling. And the provincial governments also failed to take notice since they were at the time preoccupied with other more pressing issues (it remains unclear what these issues were).

And so, despite the passing of two whole years and one very significant Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling, things continue to suck for Pakistan’s minorities. A lot.

And this is why this writer is simply not convinced that the Sindh Assembly’s (admittedly progressive) proposed legislations will accomplish much once they are passed and reach the implementation phase.

In fact, this writer takes issue with all elements surrounding the proposed legislations, including their names.

A democratic state such as Pakistan should rest on the bedrock of religious diversity. That was the promise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1947. And that is the current promise of Article 25(1) of the Pakistani constitution. Because religious diversity should, ideally, be the bedrock on which our country is built, the word ‘minority’ should not even be part of the proposed legislation.

Minority refers to something that is less than half of a total. It is defined as a smaller part of a larger group. Minority is synonymous with having a lesser status. A smaller role. With powerlessness.

Do away with the majority/minority wordage and in future legislation simply refer to your protected class of persons as non-Muslim or Muslim because that’s the issue here, right? That’s your step one.

Next, turn up the heat, and by turn up I mean really turn up the heat, on holding accountable our voted-in politicians and policymakers. Before we start creating new laws to target old problems, we need to ask whatever happened to the Supreme Court’s 2014 recommendation to form a three-member bench tasked with exclusively looking out for violations of minority rights? A separate task force that is independent of corrupt police, court officials, and local politicians is the only way to streamline and address complaints of forced conversion urgently and safely. That’s your step two.

Next, ramp up the quality and availability of pro-bono services across Pakistan. Make pro bono services attractive to young lawyers. Make current lawyers more competent by updating them on changes to the law and legal recourses available to victims of forced conversion. Being poor should not be synonymous with having poor legal representation. And, let’s face it, most non-Muslims who come seeking legal help in cases of forced conversions are operating on the lower end of the income scale. Pakistan’s unfortunate wealth disparity should not mean that access to justice is not available to the raped, abducted and forced to convert preadolescent girl. That’s your step three.

Then, turn your attention inward. The public itself is in dire need of a realignment of the prevailing, deeply entrenched, and damaging societal attitude towards women, non-Muslims, and their rights. Adopting new laws inside the air conditioned halls of the Sindh Assembly is not enough. The new law has to be adopted by the streets where it is broken. The goal is not to introduce laws. It’s about taking laws and implementing them and then informing the masses loudly and clearly of the changes in order to shake up their patriarchal, misinformed mind-sets. That’s your step four.

It is a tragedy of epic portions that some seven decades after the formation of Pakistan, our country’s rap sheet still has us leading in forced religious conversion – of the vilest crimes one could inflict against humanity. The Sindh Assembly and its members are commendable for leading the way in ground-breaking legislations. From the 2014 amendments that increased penalties for parents who forced their children into marriage before the age of 18, to January’s Hindu Marriage Act, to Goklani’s proposed legislations targeting the rampant abuse against non-Muslims, Sindh is speaking loud. And it’s time for the rest of Pakistan to start listening.

That’s your step five.

Maria Kari

Maria Kari

The author is a lawyer and freelance journalist. She tweets as @mariakari1414 (twitter.com/mariakari1414)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vinsin

    Non-Muslims can move India or any other countries they like. Pakistan was created for subcontinent Muslims.Recommend

  • abhi

    I think Hindu and Sikhs should move to India. That is the only practicle solution. Expecting Pakistan State to provide any protection is asking for a miracle.Recommend

  • Myrna Minkoff

    Will Pakistan continue to fail its non-Muslim men and women? Is the Pope Catholic? Is Bill Gates rich?Recommend

  • harkol

    The placard in the picture of the article asks “Where should we go”.

    I’d say they should come to India. India is modifying its laws to make easy migration possible for persecuted minorities of British India. Hindus/Sikhs & Christians of Pakistan must use this option and shift, instead of letting their future generations suffer in what is a theocratic nation, that treats them as second class citizens by law.Recommend

  • Liberal Adil Haque,New Zealand

    Shameful part of Pakistan. Barbarism of these people who abduct and forcefully convert in the name of religion is the main reason population of non Muslims reduced from over 28% to now measly 1%…No wonder Pakistan wants to avoid census.
    So where are the likes of ZAK Lafanga Harmony…cozying up in western world and only want to comment hatred about India without wanting to see what’s happening in your land of (IM)pure.Recommend

  • Shetty

    Sad state of minorities in PakistanRecommend

  • Harminder singh

    are Pakistanis ready to understand rights of minority’s ? The ease at which Pakistani men are able to kidnap , rape and then marry the victim without fear from the authorities is disgraceful . The abhorrent attitude is reflected in Pakistani men in foreign countries where they are disproportionly represented as perpatrators in sexual crime figures. Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Maria- a spirited write up but you cannot expect humanity out of souls who consider non muslims as lesser human beings.Recommend

  • naeemhussain

    First of all I will like to respond to Indians advising Pakistan to be fair to the minorities. They should be ashamed the way minorities are being treated in India especially Muslims. Secondly there is always some individual incident that is generalized to say some thing against my beloved country. Thirdly there is a international conspiracy to damage the image of Pakistan and they arrange such protests.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Minorities of Pakistan are already moving to India and a considerable section of the Shia community is part of that.

    India can welcome them. Pakistan is only meant for Wahhabi and Deobandi sects, that is until they start killing each other.Recommend

  • Arif khan

    Agree that Pakistan was created for Muslims but the solution is not to ask minor ties to leave nut to invite them to Islam.Recommend

  • FlipFlopcarrot

    Well Pakistan is supposed to be a secular state not a Islamic country to begin with. Our leaders are incapable of doing anything other than filling their own pockets and what ever they did only benefited a certain class of people creating a gap among people which has become a breeding ground for hate, and desperation among people. This has also given rise to these so called “Islamic Preachers” or Mullas who with the passage of time have gained enough influence to change the political field in order to satisfy their own ill needs. We can keep blaming the West, and India for conspiring against Pakistan but the truth is our leaders that we vote for are nothing but devils in disguise. Instead of bridging the gaps among the people they are breaking these bridges for their own personal gain. No one can save these people unless we the People of Pakistan ask for justice. The power is in our hands. Minorities will be continued to be prosecuted or be forced to convert unless we the People of Pakistan put a stop to it.Recommend

  • FlipFlopcarrot

    Umm I am sure Quaid dream was that Pakistan should be a secular country where all people are given rights regardless of their believes, race, culture, religion, etc. We have ruined that dreams over the years and we have done it quite successfully by years of killing them or forcefully converting them.Recommend

  • FlipFlopcarrot

    Umm I am sure Quaid dream was that Pakistan should be a secular country where all people are given rights regardless of their believes, race, culture, religion, etc. We have ruined that dreams over the years and we have done it quite successfully by years of killing them or forcefully converting them.

    These were the words by the founding father of Pakistan “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state” – Quaid

    Pakistan was supposed to be secular state. Although the independence was achieved on the grounds of protecting Muslims of subcontinent but Quaid envisioned something great that we over several generations have ruined and destroyed.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Muslims do not come under minorities in India. Why Indian Muslims dont move to Pakistan then? In India Muslims population percentage wise incrreased from 10.5% to 14.2% whereas in Pakistan Hindus are down from 22% to 1% and you are comparing?

    Right question should be why Indians didnt kill Muslims like Pakistani did on Hindus?

    So Bangladeshi Genocide, terrorism and wiping of Hindus is individual incident.Recommend

  • LS

    But they only comment on Dawn… and that news paper allows all their acerbic comments while preventing factual responses… They can never comment here because they very well know that they would be CREAMEDRecommend

  • LS

    Individual incidences? Is that how the population of minorities reduced from 26.4% to less than 1%? International conspiracy? When did Pakistan had GREAT reputation that could be damaged?

    In India population of muslims increased from 9% to over 15%… so there is NO need to be ashamed of that. but you definately need to be ashamed of what you have done to Paris, Hindus, Christians, SIkhs, Ahmadis etc… Pathetic.. Same old verbal diarrhea that is being taught in pakistanRecommend

  • vasan

    Then why do u complain about Ghar Vapsi. All muslims of India should go back to their original belief ie HinduismRecommend

  • RAJ – USA

    I have been writing on forced conversions (in reality these are conversions by rape) in Pakistan for over 5 years now. Islam as practiced in Pakistan is the only religion and Pakistani muslims are the only ones who convert minor non muslim girls by kidnap and rape. Are they making muslims out of non-muslims or are they becoming non-muslims themselves?
    These proposed laws by Sindh are not progressive and nor are they designed to protect the raped conversions of minor non-muslim girls in Pakistan. The law proposes that if a minor who has been kidnaped and taken to a muslim home is brought to the court, she will be sent to a child protective home (an islamic shelter home). Would Pakistan’s muslims allow this for their own girls or will they demand that the courts hand over the minor girl to her parents. Giving an option for the minor girl to study comparative religion is a cover up to force islam on her. Is a minor capable of deciding if islam is good for her when she would not know her own religion either? The questions that muslims of Pakistan should ask themselves is if they would allow the same for their minor daughter who is kidnaped and forcibly married off to another muslim and not even forced to convert her religion?
    However, I am happy to see that some muslims of Pakistan are writing against such conversions. What is very disappointing to see that the muslims of India are totally silent on this though they have better protection in India and need not be afraid to speak against it if they really believe that conversions by rape are against islam.

    Muslims of Pakistan may bring in few rare instances of Ghar Wapsi in India. They know that it is very rare and mainly, it is a retaliation for what muslims have been doing. The entire world is retaliating and expressing serious dislike (actually it is serious hate) for muslims of Pakistan. Those who bring in stray instances of wrong doings in India by hindus only establish the fact that muslim know what they are doing to others because it hurts them when others do it to them. Yet, they would continue to do it. To give an example of hate that is prevalent for muslims of Pakistani origin everywhere in the world, including islamic countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh Gulf Arab countries, etc., an Afghan muslim killed 50 Americans in Orlando but Trump did not even mention Afghanistan but said that muslims with roots in Pakistan should be targeted. He said so because, it is rare incidence for an Afghan muslim to hate non-muslims but regular incidence deeply imbedded in the muslims of Pakistani origin. The ultimate hate that muslims can express on non-muslims is rape kidnap and rape their minor girls and convert them to islam. This is not the only thing. Muslims of Pakistani origin convert non-muslim girls whenever they marry them. After all, he would have told her when he met her and expressed his love / liking for her that he loves everything in her, who she is. Then he forces her to convert and change who she is and everything in her and forgo all her beliefs that made her. Classic example is UK educated Imran Khan. He married Jemima who was Jewish by birth and converted to Christian. Muslims say that islam allows marriage within ahle kitab but still he had to convert her to islam. Importantly, when he married Jemima and converted her to islam, he was a playboy indulging in womanizing, drugs and alcohol. His marriage ended up in divorce. Then he had an affair with Sita White and father a daughter with her. He disowned his daughter and ditched Sita White, probably because she would not cover to islam. His divorced wife Jemima had to take care of Imran Khan’s illegitimate daughter. Then he married Reham Khan who wan 20 years younger to him. This marriage lasted for just 10 months and he divorced her by a triple talaq text message. He did not register his marriage to Reham Khan and so did not pay her any financial compensation also.

    I have often said that it is not the mullas or madrassa educated muslims of Pakistan who indulge in acts of kidnap, rape and convert of non-muslim minor girls. It is the better or somewhat educated muslims from middle class families who call themselves moderates that indulge in these acts. We saw how UK educated Maya Khan glorified conversion by having a live conversion Ramadan special TV program. We saw Dr. Shahid Masood present at the program. Watch another UK educated Fareeha Idrees TV programs thad discussed on Rinkle’s forced conversion and see how she defends it. BTW, Where is Rinkle now? Reports are that she has been killed by the muslim family when she tried to escape. NADRA has details of all converted girls and knows exactly how long they were married to the muslim man who converted her. Details are readily available as the where these girls are now and what they are doing now. But no Pakistani muslim, Including Imran Khan or Shireem Mazzari will ask for these details or insist that government publish these details.


  • Raj – USA

    No. Indians and hindus of India need not be ashamed. Char Wapsi is a stray retaliation for what muslims have been doing for a long, long time, even in India. One Ghar Wapsi stopped many continued atrocities committed by muslims, just like on Gujarat stopped many Sabarmati Express burning down of hindu pilgrims.

    Ever wondered why Trump says that muslims of Pakistani origin should be targeted when it was a muslim of Afghanistan origin who killed 50 Americans? Because it is a stray incidence as far as muslims of Afghanistan are concerned but a regular and repeated incidence as far as muslims of Pakistani origin are concerned. When muslims of Pakistan try to seek asylum in other countries, asylum seekers for other islamic countries attack them. Because even they hate muslims of Pakistani origin. Muslims of Pakistani origin are hated in many islamic countries itself. For example in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Kuwait and Iraq do not allow Pakistani muslims. Qatar has introduced restrictions for Pakistanis recently. Malaysia and Indonesia have more restrictions for Pakistanis than hindus of India. Even China has 10 times more visa restrictions for Pakistanis than they have for Indians.
    When Pakistanis quote stray examples of India and Hindus, it only confirms that Pakistanis know what they are doing and still do it to others when they do not like others doing it to them. Trump may not ban muslims from every country, but surely he will ban muslims from Pakistan. Other countries like Canada, Australia and whole of Europe will also start to do the same. Muslims of other countries are really ashamed of what muslims in Pakistan are doing, which is kidnaping minor non-muslim girls, taking them to their family home, raping them there and converting them. Even ISIS and Boko Haram take the kidnaped girls to remote places or their strongholds, not to their family homes where female members of their family are present. Pakistan is the only country in the world that is doing it, regularly and repeatedly and the muslims of Pakistan have been doing it for many decades, non stop.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Conspiracy is the favourite weapon-so not unexpected.The truth is Muslim can not live with other than his sect of Islam.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Hindus and Sikhs, originators of forced marriages, treat women as chattel slaves. Hindus and Sikhs wont be allowed to violate Women’s Rights in Pakistan. If these Hindu and Sikh minorities think they can make laws enslaving women they are mistaken. Women in Pakistan have rights including that of becoming Prime Minister. Hindu and Sikh culture and traditions will never be legalized.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Pakistan is a failed state.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Hindus consider Christians and Muslims lower than Untouchables and animals. Hindu backward mentality results in Hindus accusing others of the intolerance that Hindus practice. Hindus cannot be expected to have humanity, the Hindu belief is based on having “lesser human beings” like Untouchables/Dalits, Christians and Muslims.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Considering India elevate rape of women to having Rape Directors in Bollywood movies, Indians need to undergo mental development before they can lecture anyone else. The Indian Rape Culture which has victimized Indian women, who cannot relieve themselves without fear of rape needs serious work by women’s rights groups. India is not ready for inclusion as a modern state.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Indeed, they are in a sad state, clinging to self destructive mind set.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Maybe the real reason is they want nothing to do with hate filled Hinduism.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Typical Hindu mentality.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Did that hurt mate, it must hurt a lot for having to pretend as a Christian while having to persecute the Christians at home while pretending to be their well wishers when talking to audiences across the border. Do respond if you can get your act together and be a little more coherent.Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    Not all because some of them came from Arabia, Iran or Central Asia. They were not Hindus but Muslims – invaders according to your text books. Irony is that they left their roots here.Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Do u know how pakistani men raped British women for 2 decades in Rotherham and London?

    Atleast Indians are at high posts in western nations unlike pakistanis who are mostly criminalsRecommend

  • SamSal

    Our problem is Pakistan. We shouldn’t be focusing on what India does. Not our circus, not our monkeys!Recommend

  • Ot

    Totally rubbish and filthy propaganda against Pakistan…
    For how long have we been witnessing these cases..


  • rationalist

    Don’t forget Christians were strong supporters of Pakistan’s creation and the partition.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Hmm, so please tell all of us WHY the percentage of non-Muslim Pakistanis has declined to almost nothing in near 40 years!! Recommend

  • Enkay

    No Sir. They were not British Women. the victims were Pre-Teens i.e. as Young as 10-11 Years Old.

  • Fahim

    How much hatred, have you got heart attacks or high blood pressure ?Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    oh yes…I forgot to include those little kids as well…they were also the victims Recommend

  • harkol

    Well, History tells us Indian Muslims were even bigger supporters of Pakistan than even muslims in Pakistani territories..But, What’s that got to do with it?

    We do not punish today’s generation for the mistakes of past generation. No one can deny currently Christians are persecuted in Pakistan too.. They have many countries they can migrate to, India is just one of them.Recommend

  • Michael Peters Khan

    I think this law must be introduced in Pakistan, in order to upstrenght security for the minorities who are being abducted, misused their moral values and then sell them as slaves for their own satisfaction, pleasure and making money out of it. But the real question is: Will this law be ever introduced in our country? , Will it’s implementation be 100% ? OR our government are too corrupted “once they see the matter, condemn on the first day, next day the issue will be ignored.” The state in which are our government now can only think about funding their own ignorant projects, and making money out of it.
    Can our Government understand this situation? security of the locales and the minority must be strengthened in order to avoid such moral abuses etc. We must appeal our government to have a look on the idea that you have proposed, in order to provide us (minorities) a better security.Recommend