06/21/2017, 14.24
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Sindh High Court to vet forced conversion of underage Hindu girl

Ravita Meghwar is 16 years old from a lower caste. Her parents have filed a complaint that she was abducted, forced to embrace Islam and married off to a man 20 years her senior. The case has sparked controversy and protests by Hindus. The province had rejected the law punishing forced conversions.

Karachi (AsiaNews) - The High Court of Sindh ordered the police to produce Ravita Meghwar, a 16-year-old Hindu girl, before the court tomorrow, in order to shed light on her case.

The matter has been at the centre of heated debates in the Pakistani province over the past week, marked by widespread protests by Hindu associations and students after her parents – father Satram Das Meghwar and mother Haqu – complained that she was abducted by members of the Syed Islamic community, who forced her to convert to Islam and then marry 36-year-old Syed Nawaz Ali Shah.

Ravita – who after the wedding changed her name to Gulnaz – has already appeared before a court, saying that her marriage and prior conversion were the result of a free choice and that she could no longer live without her husband.

Appealing to her parents, she asked them to let her live in peace with her husband. She also asked her former community to stop raising the issue.

By contrast, her mother Haqu insisted that her daughter’s statement was made under pressure from her new Muslim family and demands her immediate return.

The parents have challenged the legality of marriage since she was under age. Under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013, any marriage under the age of 18 is a punishable offence.

“She was abducted from her house and forcibly married off to a man twice her age,” said Mr Meghwar, who filed a First Information Report under Section 365 of the Pakistani Penal Code at the Dano Dandhal Police Station.

Forced conversions to Islam, especially of girls, has been a real scourge for Pakistan’s eight million Hindus. According to a report by the Asian Human Rights Commission, each year at least a thousand young women are forced to marry Muslim men and repudiate their religion.

To prevent this, last year the Sindh government approved an anti-conversion law. The legislation however sparked anger among Qur'anic doctors, who have called for its repeal.

In recent days, both Hindu and Islamic communities have taken at stand on the issue, raising tensions to very high levels.  The Pakistan Peoples Party-Shaheed Bhutto and Student Associations have taken the Hindu side.

Hindus complain about a rising number of conversions and the inaction of the government and law enforcement. This has generated great anxiety in the community, which feels insecure in the province. “Our life, property and honour all are at stake,” some said.

Conversely, the Syed family is backed by Muslim activists from the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, Ghousia Jamat and Jeelani Jamat, who complain about "blasphemous contents" on social media.

One of leading Muslim figures, Noor Mohammad Udhepuri, said that “propaganda planned against Islam cannot be tolerated", and that Khanqah-i-Gulzar Khalil had not forcibly converted anyone.

Instead, Yaqoob claims that missionary schools have planned conversion of schedule caste communities to Christianity throughout Mirpurkhas division, but that nobody would speak against this because they offer monetary benefits to Hindu converts.

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