War of Words Between Swaraj-Pak Min Over Abduction of Hindu Girls

A war of words erupted on Sunday, 24 March between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary over reports of abduction of two Hindu teenaged girls and their forced conversion to Islam on the eve of Holi in the Sindh province.

In a tweet, Swaraj sought a report from Indian envoy in Pakistan Ajay Bisaria on the reported abduction of the girls and their forced conversion to Islam.

Responding to Swaraj's tweet, Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said, "Ma’am, it’s Pakistan's internal issue and rest assured it's not Modi's India where minorities are subjugated, it's Imran Khan's Naya Pak where the white colour of our flag is equally dear to us. I hope you'll act with the same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian minorities," he said.

Swaraj, in her response to Chaudhary, said she had only asked for a report from the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad about the kidnapping and forced conversion of two minor Hindu girls to Islam.

"This was enough to make you jittery. This only shows your guilty conscience," she said.

To this, Fawad Chaudhary replied, “ Madam Minister, I am happy that in the Indian administration we have people who care for minority rights in other countries.”

He added, “I sincerely hope that your conscience will allow you to stand up for minorities at home as well. Gujarat and Jammu must weigh heavily on your soul.”

Alleged Incident of Conversion & Abduction

Two teenage Hindu girls from Pakistan were allegedly abducted from Ghotki in Sindh, on the eve of Holi, on Wednesday, 20 March. The girls – Raveena and Reena – are 16 and 14 years old, respectively.

Soon after the kidnapping, a video went viral in which a cleric was purportedly shown solemnising the Nikah (marriage) of the two girls. In the video, he is seen explaining that the girls were living in an area which was surrounded by Muslims and the girls were inspired by the teachings of Islam and wanted to convert.

The cleric further stated that “two girls came to the Dargah-e-Barchundi Sharif to convert to Islam. After the conversion, with their own choice they married two boys who are their neighbours.” He further says that it is his responsibility to protect the girls since the family is allegedly trying to spread false propaganda and trying to kill them.

In a separate video, the minor girls can be seen saying that they accepted Islam of their own free will.

The abductions have been allegedly carried out by people from the Kohbar and Malik tribes, according to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

FIR Lodged, Complainant Says The Accused Had an Altercation With Family Members Few Days Ago

MEA sources told The Quint that an FIR has been registered in Daharki Police Station on the basis of a complaint lodged by the girls’ brother, Shaman Das. According to the complainant’s statement in the FIR, some time ago, family members of the girls had a brief altercation with Barkat Malik and Huzoor Ali Kobhar, who used to stand outside the girl’s home.

On 20 March, Das claimed that he was at home in Village Hafiz Suleman along with his family members when six persons, armed with pistols, entered their house. The complainant said that the six men took the family members hostage on gunpoint. Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali caught both the sisters, one being 13-year-old and the other 15-year-old, and took them away.

As per the latest reports, both minor girls have been taken to Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab to avoid their arrest by Sindh Police.

Pak PM Orders Probe

In a Twitter post in Urdu, Information Minister Chaudhry said the prime minister has asked the Sindh chief minister to look into reports that the girls in question have been taken to Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab.

According to MEA, “GoI has shared the concerns at these reports through an official note to Pakistan Foreign office on 24 March 2019. It has asked that suitable remedial action be taken by Pakistan government to protect and promote safety, security and welfare of it's own citizens, especially from the minority communities.”

Hindu Community in the Area Stages Protests

According to media reports, the Hindu community in the area staged protests, demanding action against perpetrators of the alleged crime.

Community leader Mukhi Shiv Menghwar told The Express Tribune that “it was not free will and the girls were, in fact, kidnapped and forcefully converted.”

However, Karachi's Central Police Office claimed that the two girls recorded a video in which they said that they left their home on their own and that they have embraced Islam "without any pressure," reported Pakistan Today.

Also Read: India Must ‘De-Hyphenate’ From Pakistan Like China Did From Taiwan

India has been raising the issue of plight of minorities, particularly the Hindu community in Pakistan.

In 2016, the Sindh Assembly passed a law against forced conversions, a practice that was becoming common in the area.

While the Bill was contested by the political parties, the Sindh government asked the then Governor Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui to not to ratify the Bill.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Hindu Council, Council headed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Hindu Member of National Assembly Ramesh Vankhwani, has also put out a message highlighting these cases of abduction and forced conversion of the girls. It has asked the Government of Pakistan to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years and to take strict action against clerics Miyan Mithu Barchundi, Pir Ayubjaan Sirhindi and others who are involved in such practices.

Also Read: Pak Student Kills Teacher in Bahawalpur for ‘Spreading Obscenity’

(With inputs from Pakistan Today, The Express Tribune and PTI.)

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