03/25/2019, 13.24
INDIA – PAKISTAN
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Catholic Church is against forced conversions, says Bishop Mascarenhas

The alleged abduction and forced conversion of two Hindu girls to Islam rekindles India-Pakistan tensions. The video of the two underage women married off to two men in Pakistani Punjab was posted on social media. For CBCI secretary general, "religion does not admit force".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church "is against all conversions done by force or deception. At the same time, it defends the right of everyone to profess and spread their faith,” said Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).

The prelate’s statement comes in the wake of the alleged abduction of two Hindu girls in the Pakistani province of Sindh, who were later forced to convert to Islam and marry two Muslim men. The issue has revived India-Pakistan tensions.

For Archbishop Mascarenhasm "freedom of religion is sacred". The incident involving the two girls has widened the rift between the two neighbours, already defined by religious differences – Hindu India vs Muslim Pakistan – which was the basis of the violent partition of the British Raj in 1947.

However, the territories in north-western British India were not divided along religious lines, sparking civil unrest and the exodus of millions of people who hurriedly abandoned their homes on either side of the new border. To this day, the conflict continues to shape life in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The abduction case came to light on Friday after Raveena (13) and Reena (15), sisters, were abducted by a group of influential Muslim men in Ghotki, a district in Sindh province. Their abduction occurred last Wednesday, on the eve of the Hindu festival of Holi (the festival of colours).

Right after they were seized, the young women were forcibly converted and married off in Rahim Yar Khan, in the Pakistani Punjab. The wedding ceremony (Nikah in Urdu), complete with a celebrating imam, was videotaped and posted on social media.

Indian authorities reacted promptly, first of all India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who ordered the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad to start an investigation. On her Twitter profile, the minister condemned the illegal marriage of minors.

For his part, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered a probe into the case.

Pakistan’s reassurances have not, however, stopped Ms Swaraj’s verbal fury. “This only shows your guilty conscience,” she wrote on Twitter, addressing Chaudhry directly.

Today, Pakistani media have reported that a man was arrested in Khanpur (Punjab). According to the police, he is the imam who signed the marriage contract.

Pakistani newspapers also report that the two teenagers turned to a court in Bahawalpur (Punjab) for protection.

"Everyone has the right to profess his or her religion,” notes Mgr Mascarenhas. “The choice must be free, never imposed by force or deception. The Catholic Church is very clear on this: religion does not admit force."

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