By Hasan Mansoor Published Jan 25, 2015, Daily Dawn
BADIN: “We have sent our daughter to a place where she is out of the reach of those who had abducted her two months ago,” said Hunjoo Kohli, a 46-year-old woman sitting on a charpoy outside her mud-thatched hut some five kilometres from the tiny town of Gulab Leghari on the fringe of Badin district.
Dressed in a traditional sari that covered her from head to toe with her arms adorned with heavy bangles, Hunjoo was sitting with her husband, Weenjho, who vended fruit to make a living for his two sons and six daughters.
The family along with several relatives had left their lands and migrated from Nagarparkar of Thar district three decades ago to this area of Matli taluka where almost every member — young and old — worked as labourer, majority of them in agricultural fields, to ensure survival of their dependants.
Just a week ago, the family successfully got the custody of Mavi who had been kidnapped along with her cousin Baadal by half-a-dozen gun-toting influential residents of Gulab Leghari on Nov 27, 2014. The family said she was 14 while a medical board counted her age as 16.
Local police said the girls had ‘mysteriously disappeared’ that day but the family said men in a car and a motorcycle brandishing guns came into their hut and took away the two girls who were sleeping on charpoys.
“My daughter was sleeping here on this charpoy while Baadal was there,” said Weenjho pointing at a neighbouring hut that had been pulled down though one of its walls engraved with an arrow, the election symbol of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, was still there. The two girls were shifted overnight to Samaro, a town in Umerkot around 100 kilometres from here, where they got the girls converted to Islam and married off with two of the kidnappers, one of them was sexagenarian, just 20 minutes before the area police reached there.
“On a tip-off we reached Samaro where a Pir is famous for conversions. But when we made it there we were told that the girls had already converted and married and had been taken somewhere else,” said Gulab Leghari SHO Abdul Rasheed Bhatti.
He said the men who had married the girls later moved court in Hyderabad where affidavits were filed in which they showed that the couples had married under no duress. The families of the girls appeared in court where the judge ordered evaluation of girls’ age. Mavi’s age was shown in the medical board examination as 16 and Baadal was reported to be 20 years. Since the provincial assembly enforced a law making it obligatory for marrying individuals that they should be 18 years or more, Mavi was sent to a shelter while Baadal was handed over to her husband.
SHO Bhatti said Baadal did not utter a word, nor did she ‘want to speak’ to her parents despite court assistance that showed ‘her consent to the marriage’.
“She was extremely terrified about the consequences, that’s why she did not speak,” said Weenjho who said the day when Baadal’s custody was given to her husband her parents pulled down their hut, packed whatever they had and ran away ‘to save their three younger daughters from a similar fate’.
After spending around a month in the shelter home, Mavi requested the court to reunite her with her parents. Her custody had been given to the family on Jan 12, according to the SHO. “We have sent her to an undisclosed location for her safety as the danger has not yet fully averted for her and the rest of the family,” said Hunjoo who showed a photo of the girl taken last year in a local studio.
“We have recorded several cases of Hindu girls’ forced conversion to Islam and Mavi and Baadal’s was just one of them,” said Hyderabad-based human rights lawyer Veerjee Kohli.
The lawyer said Mavi’s was a rare case in which she successfully returned home because of a provincial government’s newly-promulgated law yet relevant authorities showed no will to punish her abductors. “The abductors should be punished or such cases would increase further and augment sense of insecurity among religious minorities.”
Pakistan is signatory to several international agreements meant to protect minorities, but Mr Kohli and other rights and minority organisations believed that such conventions were being violated.
South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), a regional organisation that works on rights of expression, association, assembly and thoughts (REAT) and champions for minorities’ rights, said their programme had focus on Articles 18 to 22 in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“Under this law, minorities should be given due privileges being the citizen of a country. Pakistan has also ratified it,” said SAP-PK provincial coordinator Shahnaz Sheedi.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a rights body established by Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 1985, last year published a report titled ‘Forced conversions and marriages; situation in Pakistan’ in which it compiled ‘forced’ conversions from various religions to Islam.
According to the report, 729 Hindus, 617 Christians, 385 Ahmadis, three Sikhs, two Kalash and 33 others whose faith was not known or belonging to other religions converted to Islam from 2000 to 2012. The report stated: “In a number of cases, minority women [Christian, Hindu and Sikh], including minors were abducted and converted to Islam through a Muslim marriage. Their contact with families becomes impossible on account of their conversion. Scared by the abductors, they make statement before the judge that they changed their religion out of free will.”
Kalpna Devi, a community leader, said the community was in fear because of increasing conversions.She said the court should have considered the law passed by the Sindh Assembly making 18 years mandatory for marriage in Anjali’s case.
In a highly alarming twist to the phenomenon of migration of Hindus to India, now not just the rich Hindus are migrating from Sindh, but Dalits also have joined the bandwagon.
“Anyone can bear any loss and injustice for the land one loves but not when it comes to your own honour,” said Damro Kohli, a labourer and a veteran Sindhi nationalist.
Mr Damro said he had sold everything he had in Nagarparkar and Badin, got his and his family passports prepared and had applied for the Indian passport to migrate for good. “I could never have migrated from Sindh, had my niece not been abducted, forcibly converted and married against her will,” he said.
Mavi’s relatives said they too were ‘seriously’ thinking about migration that they deemed was the only way to safety. “Many of our relatives have already gone to Gandhi Nagar in India where they are happy and safe. We will have to do the same,” said Weenjho.
The migration of Sindhi Dalits will not just affect Sindh’s pluralism and its Sufi posture, it will gravely harm its agro-economy, experts said. Hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers belong to Kohlis, Bheels and other Dalit castes, whose migration may irreparably jolt its farming prowess.