Rinkle Kumari, 19, claims she was kidnapped, converted to Islam and married against her will
By Jon Boone in Islamabad
The fate of a Pakistani Hindu woman who claims she was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married against her will is to be decided this week, after weeks of campaigning by the country’s Hindu minority.
The case of 19-year-old Rinkle Kumari has outraged Hindus from her small town in the south of the country, where community leaders accuse Muslims of preying on Hindu girls of marriageable age.
Some claim similar cases are helping to fuel a steady outflow of Pakistan’s tiny Hindu community as families choose to move to Hindu-majority India instead.
In a hearing beginning on Monday, the supreme court in Islamabad will try to get to the bottom of the hotly contested versions of events.
The town’s Muslims, backed by a powerful local politician, say Kumari freely converted to Islam to marry her neighbour, Naveed Shah, on 24 February. But her father, a primary school teacher, is adamant she was abducted in the middle of the night from her house in Mirpur Marthelo, in Sindh province.
“These people see beautiful young Hindu girls and chase them,” said her uncle Raj Kumar. “For 15 days Naveed Shah had been shouting at Rinkle, threatening to kill her only brother.”
Her case has won support from members of parliament and attracted widespread attention in the Pakistani media. According to the Frontier Post newspaper, Rinkle was seized “for reasons based in sheer lust and debauchery”.
Throughout the whole saga Rinkle’s voice has barely been heard, although both sides say she has made clear statements supporting their contradictory claims.
Her family says that when she first appeared at a magistrates court late last month the tearful woman made clear she had been forcibly converted and wanted to return to her parents. But the court failed to record her statement and put her in police custody after hundreds of Muslim protesters surrounded the court.
In a subsequent hearing – from which the family say they were banned – Kumari said she had freely converted.
In a sign of the enormous tensions created by the case, the Hindu minority only succeeded in forcing the authorities to open a case on the issue by staging protests, with shopkeepers striking and demonstrators blocking a highway. The intervention of the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, forced the police to act, say protesters.
Mian Mitto, the local member of parliament whom Kumari’s family has accused of being intimately involved in the abduction and conversion, dismissed her initial court statement. “She may have been emotional, it is only natural to be upset after seeing her parents in court,” he said.
Mitto’s family control a nearby Sufi shrine which has a long history as a place where people come to convert to Islam.
In his version of events Kumari had long been in love with Shah. Speaking at his house in Islamabad, he produced telephone and SMS logs that apparently showed the pair were in regular communication, although Raj Kumar insisted the family was too poor for Rinkle to have a phone.
Whether she was abducted or went on her own volition, she arrived at the shrine late at night. Within hours she had converted to Islam and married Shah, Mitto said.
Amarnath Motumal, from the Sindh chapter of Pakistan’s human rights commission, said many cases of forced conversion were covered up, but he believed there were at least 20 such incidents each month. He said: “They take them into these extremist madrassas and don’t let the parents meet their families, claiming the girl does not want to meet kaffirs [unbelievers] – her own parents.”
Another recent case involves a female medical student who was allegedly kidnapped on the streets of Karachi. “These people want to stoke a war between the Hindus and Muslims so that we leave the country,” said Amarlal, chairman of the Progressive Minorities Commission, who uses only one name. “Local mullahs and fundamentalist people think that if they leave they can take their properties.”
Only a tiny minority of Hindus live in the country after massive migration of Sikhs and Hindus out of Pakistan when the state was formed in 1947 to create a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims. About 3% of the population are Hindus. Some Hindu community organisations claim that about 10 families leave Pakistan each month.