Dear Pakistan and India, stop trying to convert your minorities
My attention was recently drawn to a news story according to which non-Muslim employees of Mian Mir hospital in Lahore are forced to recite verses from the Holy Quran daily at the morning assembly. The news further stated that those who refused to do so were penalised by being marked absent for the day (and thereby losing a day’s wages).
If true, this is indeed shocking news. Once a non-Muslim says the words of the Kalima, he or she automatically is converted to Islam, and cannot go back to his or her original religion. It goes without saying that such men or women cannot continue living with their spouses or their parents. If they do, they are in danger of being labelled apostates and risk being lynched by infuriated mobs. Therefore, the hospital administration is violating the Constitution which guarantees religious freedom to the citizens.
I was reminded of the Christian school which I attended, where every morning and after every break the Catholic boys would recite the Lord’s Prayer, while non-Christian students would stand and merely listen. Of course, there was no attempt by the teachers to force the non-Christian boys to recite the words of the prayer, but some boys did so out of ignorance. Despite that, we used to feel very uncomfortable during the recitals, so I can understand how the non-Muslim staff of the Lahore Mian Mir hospital felt when they were forced to recite Quranic verses. Naturally, they protested and brought the matter to the attention of the authorities.
Some Indian relatives of mine visited Karachi recently and said that their children are being compelled to recite verses of Vande Matram, which is sung in praise of a Hindu goddess. They are also compelled to read the Ramayan, which is about Hindu gods and goddesses. The helpless Indian Muslim children have no choice but to submit, considering the highly charged atmosphere in today’s India, where there is a movement to declare India as a Hindu state, making Muslims and other minorities second-class citizens.
Recently, the government tried to pass a law making forced conversions a crime, but the religious lobby successfully resisted and the law has been shelved, and it is doubtful if it will ever be passed. Sometimes, Hindu and Christian women are kidnapped or raped and then forced to marry their rapists or abductors. There is a popular misconception in Pakistan that the population of women is greater than that of men. This is not true. According to available data, the male-female ratio in the country is 1.06, meaning that there are 106 men for 100 women in Pakistan (those clerics who advise Muslims to practice polygamy are apparently not aware of this fact). Perhaps it is due to the lesser number of women in Pakistan that non-Muslim women are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men.
But the situation is worse in India, where the movement called “ghar wapsi” (returning home) has been launched to convert all Indian Muslims and Christians to Hinduism by 2021 (four years from today). There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Indian Muslims are either being killed or converted en masse. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of Muslims in India increased by 45% over 10 years, but in the next decade, it only grew at 25%, as a result of which the Indian Muslim population in 2011 was only 172 million (it should have been 200 million if the growth rate had remained at 45%).
So, it is not only in Pakistan that forced conversions take place. But that doesn’t mean we should not take action to stop people like the Mian Mir Hospital administrator who are forcing non-Muslims to convert against their will. The government should take action to prevent this obnoxious practice from taking place.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.