10/09/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Faisalabad: 24-year old Christian abducted, forced to convert to Islam and marry her abuser

Shafique Khokhar
Shumaila Bibi kidnapped by a 26 year old Muslim Muhammad Javed Iqbal on the way home. Subjected to sexual assault and forced to study the Koran. On a pretext she managed to escape and return to her family. Her captor denounced the girl's father for "kidnapping" her. Shumaila's future hangs in the balance.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - Seized at dawn, forced to endure sexual abuse and to marry the young Muslim man who abducted her with the help of his family and convert to Islam. This is the dramatic story of Shumaila Bibi, a 24-year old Christian who worked in Nishatabad, a suburb of Faisalabad (Punjab), in a textile company. The episode dates back to September 24, and for days she was subjected to a daily nightmare with her tormentor; on October 5, using a ruse, she managed to escape. However, her so-called "husband" denounced her flight and with his parents - reversing the facts - reported her family for "kidnapping" her. The police accepted his version of the facts and have opened an investigation claiming that the girl converted and married "of her own free will." The future of Sumaila is hanging by a thread and will depend on the decisions of the justice of Pakistan, who on more than one occasion have failed to protect the rights of religious minorities in the country.

At 6 in the morning of 24 September Shumaila Bibi, who worked in a textile company, had just finished her shift and was about to return home. On the way she ran into to the 26 year old Muslim Muhammad Javed Iqbal, who had approached her family with the intention, over time, of establishing an engagement (though "I refused and I have repeatedly discouraged it" the young woman tells AsiaNews). Despite all this, with the help of his mother, two brothers, some uncles and the threat of a gun, Muhammad dragged the girl into a nearby vehicle.

At the time, there was only the guard of Millat Textile Mills factory to witness the scene. Threatened by the abductors family he did not intervene. The next day, Muhammad Javed Iqbal - along with 25 relatives - led Shumaila to a lawyer, Muhammad Tanveer Aslam. In his office, he forced her to sign a statement of intent, under which she declared her marriage to the young Muslim and conversion to Islam.

For days she was sexually abused, harassed and forced to study the Koran and the precepts of Islam. During one of these lessons she asked her Muslim teacher to be able to go home earlier than the scheduled time. Free to move, Shumaila escaped and returned to her parents' house. This, however, infuriated the groom who immediately reported the girl's parents to the police for ... "Kidnapping." The officials upheld his complaint because the young woman converted and consented to the marriage "of her own free will" and without compulsion.

The Catholic activists of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church of Pakistan (NCJP) have taken up the defense of Mansha Masih, girl's father, 68, who now risks prison for kidnapping. The lawyers have filed a counter complaint and now seek justice, though on several occasions the will of the majority and Islamic law have dominated in spite of the rule of law, to decide on the matter. Her future is hanging by a thread and there is a real fear she will be returned to her torturers. Interviewed by AsiaNews, Shumaila confirmed that she wants to "live with my parents and practice the Christian faith." The young Muslim helped her find a job and with this "subterfuge" introduced himself into the family and tried to approach her. "But I refused - she clarifies - several times and I invited to desist" from his intent. "And for that, he ruined my life."

Fr. Nisar Barkat, diocesan director of NCJP in Faisalabad, said that "we do our best to provide aid and assistance to victims like Shumaila." The priest invokes the "intervention" of the police to "ensure the legality and freedom" of the community. "We have to be careful - he warns - of the manipulation of religion in the name of justice, and the state must guarantee religious freedom in the country."

 

 

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