"We will show the (Narendra) Modi government how to treat minorities," Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan had vowed in December last year, reiterating his catchphrase, "this is Naya Pakistan". Imran's government parroted the same statement on Sunday " after promises to recover two Hindu girls who were reportedly abducted and forced to convert to Islam " but the words sounded hollow with the occurrence of same old atrocities against the minority communities.
The two girls, Raveena (13) and Reena (15), were allegedly kidnapped by a group of "influential" men from their home in Ghotki district in Sindh on the eve of Holi. Soon after the kidnapping, a video went viral in which a cleric was purportedly shown solemnising the nikah (marriage) of the two girls, triggering nationwide outrage.
After Imran ordered a probe into the incident, authorities arrested the cleric who is suspected to have assisted in the marital contract. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a prominent Hindu lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, said he would present a resolution in the National Assembly in its next session demanding an end to forced conversions, PTI reported.
The draft resolution demands that the unfortunate incidents of kidnappings and forced conversions must be condemned unanimously by all the members of Parliament. "The bill against forced conversions which was unanimously passed by Sindh Assembly in 2016 and then reverted due to pressure of extremist elements, must be resurrected and passed in the Assembly on priority basis," says the draft resolution. The resolution would seek strict action against controversial religious elements for supporting such inhuman practice.
However, despite claims of immediate action against the perpetrators of the latest incident, several activists and journalists in India and Pakistan have criticised the Imran-led government for non-performance on one of its major poll planks ahead of the general elections in July 2018. Imran's election campaign had said his party's agenda was to uplift the various religious groups across Pakistan and said they would take effective measures to prevent forced marriages of Hindu girls.
Pakistan's 'terrified' minorities
Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistan-based nuclear physicist, praised New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern for her determined support for the Muslim minority community after the terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch. Highlighting the New Zealand government's "gold-plated standards" of compassion, Hoodbhoy writes in Dawn, "Their response to last week's horrific mosque massacres in Christchurch was exemplary. Many countries need to learn from New Zealand, Pakistan more than most."
Detailing his criticism of the Pakistan governments' lack of response to crimes against minorities, the professor's examples span from the Asif Ali Zardari administration in 2010, to Imran's current government. No "public grief or outrage" was evident after simultaneous attacks on two Ahmadi worship places in Lahore in 2010. The incident had left at least 94 dead.
While then-Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif did not engage with the bereaved families of the victims at all, current Pakistan Muslim League-chief Nawaz Sharif had reportedly reached out to the Ahmadi communities by calling them "brothers and sisters" " but faced immediate flak from his own party, Hoodbhoy writes.
In an editorial titled 'Pakistan's terrified Christians'. Hoodbhoy also writes about how Christians, though not Pakistan's largest minority, have resorted to blending in, but to no avail. "Pakistan's minorities live under the boot of the majority and know they cannot speak the truth," he concluded.
Some critics also pointed out the Pakistan Police's apathy in dealing with religious minorities, specifically based on their handling of the case of the Hindu girls. Over the weekend, two separate narratives developed about the incident, with a viral video of the girls being used to support the claim that they had converted to Islam of their own free will. However, a video of their family members debunking the claim was also released soom after.
However, Kamal Siddiqi writes in The Express Tribune that the police decided to take the former narrative as the truth "without their own investigation". "Without proper investigation, IG Sindh Syed Kaleem Imam took the stance that the two had not been abducted. This is shameful."
"The recent study cites evidence provided by numerous NGOs, journalists and academics which have shown that abductions and forced conversions are one of the most serious problems facing Hindu and Christian women and girls in Pakistan. Not surprisingly, the police often turn a blind eye to this thereby creating impunity for perpetrators," Siddiqi added.
He also brings to attention the bill that was brought drafted to curb forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls in 2013, after demonstrations by political parties and civil society activists against the atrocity.
"In November 2016, the bill was passed unanimously by the Sindh Provincial Assembly. However, the Bill failed to make it into law as the then Governor, Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui, returned it in January 2017. The bill was effectively blocked by mobilisation from various quarters," the author says.
However, Siddiqi attributes the action taken in the most recent case to Imran's decision-making. "This is shameful and needs to be called out. When will it have the guts to do the right thing? When will this injustice end?"
Despite his statements of support for minorities " whether Hindu, Christian, or members of the Ahmadi community " Indian journalists have pointed to Imran's reversal of his decision to hire Atif Milan, an economist, for his economic advisory council "only because he is an Ahmadi".
Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. A majority of Pakistan's Hindu population is settled in the Sindh province. According to media reports, approximately 25 forced marriages take place every month only in Umerkot district in Sindh province.
India's "two-faced" policy on minorities
Even though Imran's government in Pakistan is in the spotlight for the crime against the two Hindu girls, the Indian government's "two-faced" policy on atrocities against minorities has not gone unnoticed. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday demanded a report into the incident from the Indian envoy in Islamabad.
Swaraj's tweet was picked up by Pakistan's Information minister Fawad Chaudhry who said that it was an internal matter, adding "it was Imran Khan's Naya Pakistan". He tweeted, "Mam its Pakistin (sic) internal issue and rest assure its not Modi's India where minorities are subjugated its Imran Khan's Naya Pak where white color of our flag is equally dearer to us. I hope you ll act with same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian Minorities."
However, this editorial by The Telegraph, titled 'Government's two faces on minorities', observed how Swaraj's prompt statement on the incident threw into sharp contrast her government's silence on incidents of violence against religious minorities in India, the case in point being the daylight communal assault on a Muslim family in Gurugram on Holi.
"Sushma's initial tweet had already had the desired impact on her constituency, having been immediately welcomed by members of the Right-wing ecosystem," the editorial said adding that social media users were quick to point out the Narendra Modi government's silence on the incident in Gurugram.
"This isn't the first time that the Modi government has chosen to maintain a studied silence on attacks on minorities or socially disadvantaged communities in India. When it has spoken, it has usually done so after several days and its comments have tended to be tangential. Whenever such matters have been raised in Parliament, the government's stock reply has been that law and order is a state issue," the editorial said.
With inputs from agencies