In Pakistan, No Quick End to Islam Conversion Case


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hopes for the rapid resolution of a controversy over the conversion of a Hindu woman to Islam that has seized the Pakistani public were dashed on Monday, when the Supreme Court declined to decide the matter for at least three more weeks.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ruled that Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu student who converted under disputed circumstances last month, should spend the next three weeks pondering her fate in protective custody, along with another Hindu woman in a similar situation.

During an emotional and sometimes rowdy hearing in a packed courtroom in Islamabad, the capital, Chief Justice Chaudhry noted that there had been “serious allegations of abduction and forced conversion” in both cases.

“Both ladies must have an atmosphere without any pressure to make a decision about their future,” he said.

Moments earlier, the police dragged Ms. Kumari’s father from the courtroom after he had begun shouting. Such scenes have been typical of a case that has received intense media attention and has highlighted the sense of siege among a prominent religious minority.

The case started in Mirpur Mathelo, a small town in Sindh Province, where in 12 hours on Feb. 24, Ms. Kumari left her family home, converted to Islam and married Naveed Shah, a Muslim neighbor who said he had been courting her through Facebook and cellphone contact.

Ms. Kumari’s family and Hindu community leaders reacted angrily, alleging that she had been abducted at gunpoint and forced to convert by Mian Mitho, a powerful conservative Muslim politician who sits in the national Parliament.

After four bitterly contested hearings in provincial courts, the case made its way on Monday to the Supreme Court, where judges hoped that Ms. Kumari and a fellow convert, Dr. Lata Kumari, 29, could finally speak their minds clearly. But it was not to be.

Ms. Kumari, who wore a black hijab and was surrounded by six police officers, stumbled as she began her testimony, visibly nervous. Chief Justice Chaudhry then cleared the courtroom of everyone, including lawyers, to allow the two women to testify in private.

For the next 30 minutes, the two rival camps of supporters mingled uneasily in the marble-walled corridor. Ms. Kumari’s mother and sister prostrated themselves on the floor, reading from brightly colored religious texts. The Hindu men gave reporters accounts of oppression at the hands of Pakistan’s Muslim-dominated judiciary and police force.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mitho, the Muslim politician, surrounded himself with supporters who wore thick beards and white pointed caps. “Whatever happens is God’s will,” he said with an easy smile.

But tensions opened once the hearing resumed. Ramesh Kumar, the father of Ms. Kumari, rushed toward the judge’s bench, pleading for his daughter’s release. “Please do justice!” he cried as wailing female relatives also rose from their seats.

Security staff members tried to restrain Mr. Kumar, who grew more agitated; moments later he was carried from the courtroom, still shouting, by his hands and feet.

Wrapping up the hearing, Chief Justice Chaudhry noted that Hindus, who constitute about 2 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, were the “weak segment” of society. “We have to provide them some support,” he said.

He then ordered that the two Muslim converts be returned under police escort to a women’s shelter in Karachi until the next hearing on April 18.

Courtesy: The New York Times

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