A Sindhi Saga: The Abduction of Our Daughters
By: Viju Sidhwani
Hindus have remained a minority in Pakistan since the creation of the country in 1947 when India was partitioned into two separate countries: a new India and Pakistan. Since its inception Pakistan has struggled with supporting a democratic government from being overtaken by a military dictatorship, sectarian violence, and harsh treatment of its minorities including Hindus, Shias, Christians, Sikhs, and several other communities.
In particular Hindus in Pakistan have experienced harsh and severely inhumane living conditions. Kidnappings, physical and psychological torture, rapes, forced conversions to Islam, forced marriages of young Hindu girls to Muslim men, lack of police protection, bonded labor, and religious-based discrimination have become the norm for Hindus who involuntarily became citizens of the newly created Islamic Republic in 1947. Of late the rise in Islamic fundamentalism throughout Pakistan has created a viciously hostile environment, choking Hindus and other minorities of their basic rights to live in the land of their forefathers.
A quintessential case of this scenario is that of Rinkel Kumari, a 17-year old Sindhi Hindu girl from the town of Mirpur Mathelo who was kidnapped at gunpoint on February 24, 2012. Rinkel’s case has gained tremendous media attention in Pakistan and around the world – not because it is shockingly rare – but because it is one of several recent cases in which young Hindu girls were kidnapped, tortured, forcibly converted to Islam under the mandate of a Mullah (a religious cleric), and immediately forced to marry a Muslim man. While cases like this are common in Pakistan, their intensified frequency and the subsequent reactions elicited by the Hindu community are now unparalleled to similar events in the past.
Notably, the man behind Rinkel’s abduction, Mian Abdul Haq, is a Member of the National Assembly (MNA) of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Her abduction by a MNA of the ruling political party in Pakistan clearly highlights a case of state-sponsored terrorism. That too, by another Sindhi. The difference is that Mian Abdul Haq is a Muslim Sindhi not a Hindu Sindhi.
Moreover, the same week Rinkel was kidnapped three other Hindu girls were kidnapped and underwent the same harassment, conversion, and forced marriage including a physician who worked at a prestigious hospital in Karachi. Since Rinkel was kidnapped four months ago over one hundred other Hindu girls in Sindh have been either kidnapped and converted or are reported missing.
Rinkel Kumari was kidnapped from her home at approximately 4:00 AM on February 24, 2012 by some neighbors and brought to the Dargah Alia Qadria Bharchundi Sharif, an Islamic seminary. After Rinkel was kidnapped she was held by her abductors at the Bharchundi Sharif Darghah and the following day she was brought to a provincial court in Ghotki, the district of Sindh where she lived. Her abductors stated that she willingly converted to Islam and married a Muslim man by choice. She, on the other hand, stated that she was kidnapped and wished to return back to her family. After delivering her statement to the judge she was slapped in the face by one of her abductors and the court was adjourned until two days later. During this time she remained in the legal custody of the police, but her abductors had easy access to her while her family did not. While in police custody Rinkel was threatened and abused into changing her testimony which she eventually did.
Two days later when the court reconvened Rinkel stated she willingly converted to Islam and married her neighbor Naveed Shah by choice. She left the court in tears and her conversion to Islam was immediately celebrated by several hundred to a thousand armed men outside the court who aggressively surrounded her and her new husband. Many of the men were armed with kalashnikovs and violently fired bullets in the air during the boisterous parade that followed. The actual video footage of this apocalyptic circus and the celebration of an Islamic victory over the Hindu minority can be found on YouTube.
Notably Rinkel’s family was never allowed inside the court building and was deliberately misguided by the local police force. Ironically the police had blocked off the main roads that lead to the provincial court the day of Rinkel’s hearing. Only those who were aware of the complicated detour were able to make it to the court. Somehow Mian Abdul Haq and his followers were aware of this esoteric information.
Likewise the timing of Rinkel’s second hearing in the provincial court in Ghotki was moved up by over two hours to intentionally avoid her family’s presence. By the time her family showed up to the court the hearing was complete and she had already been declared a married woman. While her actual age on this date was 17, the marriage certificate stated 22 to avoid the involvement of her parents given that she was still a minor and needed their permission to legally marry according to Pakistani law.
Rinkel’s family subsequently petitioned the Sindh High Court in Karachi at which time she was brought before the judge and sent to Dar-ul-Aman, a women’s shelter in Islamabad until the case would be further examined in the Supreme Court a few weeks later.
Since the day Rinkel was kidnapped she has not been allowed to interact with her family. However, her abductors including Mian Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitho, her husband Naveed Shah, and other men of their family have been allowed to sexually abuse her and subject her to violent physical and psychological torture at the Bharchundi Sharif Dargah. Even after her family filed a formal case with the police and she was taken into police custody and then to a women’s shelter her abuse continued. Throughout all previous court hearings and those that followed Rinkel was even accompanied by Mian Abdul Haq and his followers, but she was never allowed to meet with or speak to her family.
On March 26, 2012 Rinkel’s case was heard by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for the first time. Rinkel stated verbally and in writing that she was kidnapped and wanted to return to her parents. Her outcry and wish that she would rather be killed than return to a shelter was recorded by numerous media sources who were present. However, given the mounting pressure of Mian Abdul Haq’s armed supporters outside the courtroom Rinkel was forcefully sent to a government-run women’s shelter in Karachi where Mian Abdul Haq and his supporters are known to openly exert their influence. Additionally, the security guard assigned to monitor the shelter during this time was specifically transferred from Ghotki, the local district that is represented by Mian Abdul Haq in parliament. Rinkel stayed here for three more weeks before the case was re-examined by the Supreme Court in Islamabad.
During her time at the women’s shelter in Karachi Rinkel was routinely visited by armed police officers, her so-called husband, and family members and devout followers of Mian Abdul Haq. Here she was further tortured and intimidated to state in court that she willingly accepted Islam, married Naveed Shah by choice, and does not want to return back to her parents. Mian Abdul Haq had even made public statements during this three week period that Rinkel’s maternal uncle, Mr. Raj Kumar Wanjara should be violently tortured and killed for filing a case against a Muslim cleric who speaks the word of God.
Three weeks later Rinkel was transferred from the shelter in Karachi back to Islamabad for the second Supreme Court hearing. In Islamabad she was allowed to meet Comrade Amar Lal, a community activist who worked with her counsel. Comrade Amar Lal is also a former Federal Minister and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister and is currently the Chairman of the Minority Commission of Pakistan, a non-governmental organization. Rinkel discussed with him in detail how she was repeatedly raped, beaten, and humiliated by her so called husband as well as close family members of Mian Abdul Haq. She was openly told that if she spoke the truth in court she would be killed along with her entire family and 2,000 other Hindus residing in Ghotki, the district where she lived. She was specifically told that her family would be butchered and fed to dogs. Rinkel’s grandfather was even shot at, but luckily survived. As a result Rinkel’s family fled their town in Ghotki for the Nankana Sahib Gurudwara in Lahore, Punjab that provided a safe haven for them.
On the date of her second Supreme Court hearing in Islamabad Rinkel required the need to hold on to a female police officer due to a fractured leg she suffered from being tortured at the women’s shelter. She was never asked why she required someone’s assistance to walk when she previously walked independently. Other evidence of physical torture was concealed under the head-to-toe burqa that she has been forced to wear since her abduction. Moreover, she was never deposed or asked about her treatment by her abductors, the police force, or at the women’s shelters where she stayed. Neither was she allowed to make any statement directly to the court. Rather, Rinkel and the two other girls who were also tried in the same case gave a written statement to the registrar of the court after the case was adjourned, a process that is considered illegal and unconstitutional in Pakistan and is being appealed by her attorneys.
All three girls were kidnapped by followers of Mian Abdul Haq and, immediately after, were forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men. The girls’ statements were written for them by their abductors and all three girls walked into the courtroom with these written statements. Rinkel clearly stated that she was even under the influence of sedatives and behavior-controlling drugs on the day of her Supreme Court hearing. Due to the death threats they received from Mian Abdul Haq and his supporters all three girls provided written statements to the court registrar of choosing to live with their new husbands.
Moreover, the family of Asha, one of the other two girls in this case, had received several requests for ransom from the police after a case of kidnapping was registered with them. The amount of ransom increased each time the family desperately asked the police to help locate their daughter until it reached an amount that her family could not afford to pay. Asha is only 15, yet the age listed on her marriage certificate was several years older.
The case of Rinkel, Asha, and Dr. Lata has gained a significant amount of media attention because it highlights the colossal problem of abduction, torture, and conversion of Hindu and other minority girls in Pakistan. Young girls like Rinkel are regularly kidnapped and made to work in brothels as sex slaves. Usually these girls disappear within months of their abduction because they are sold, sometimes several times over, or killed.
Recent reports by Comrade Amar Lal, her family, and others who are familiar with Rinkel’s case have highlighted further torture including forceful removal of her finger nails and an abdominal injury requiring hospitalization. Rinkel’s family is still frantically requesting a meeting with her and has involved other politicians including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. They have also appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International. So far, there has been no sign of hope that Rinkel will be allowed to meet them and be free of torture and death threats.
Throughout the hearings of Rinkel’s case two US-based organizations, the Hindu American Foundation and the Pakistan Hindu Post, petitioned Mrs. Hillary Clinton and the United States Department of State to exert necessary and appropriate pressure on the Pakistani government with respect to this case. The petition has received support from over 7,000 people so far. Unmistakably this case is not over and the appeals process is still under way. Your signature will lend support to the subdued voices of Sindhi ‘nyanis’ (young girls) and amplify the details of their vicious torture. Below is a link to this petition:
Protests have been organized around the world to voice concern and anger over Rinkel’s case and the harsh treatment of minorities in Pakistan. These were held in Washington, D.C., London, Italy, India, and in several cities in Pakistan including Sukkhur, Hyderabad, Karachi, and Islamabad. Several of the protests in Pakistan were also accompanied by press conferences. Dozens of noteworthy articles have also been published on this issue and several mainstream Pakistani talk shows have discussed this issue at length. (The author can be contacted for a detailed list of links to these articles and videos).
While most Hindu Sindhis in the world do not still live in Sindh it may surprise many to know that as of several years ago there were more Sindhi Hindus living in Pakistan than in India. Those Hindus who left Sindh after partition indeed suffered a set of challenges that threatened their survival, yet most of them overcame those difficulties and triumphed. Sindhis today own a significant amount of property in India and run successful businesses that are more than proportional to their size as a percentage of the entire population of India. Sindhis have become famous bankers, actors, film producers, merchants, scholars, models, doctors, lawyers, and even politicians. Sindhis among the international diaspora have also prospered significantly and have enriched the entrepreneurial spirit that is characteristic of our community.
Yet as much as Sindhis in India and the rest of the world have progressed they have also become increasingly disconnected and alienated from their brothers and sisters in Sindh. Hindus in Sindh are quickly becoming an endangered species on the verge of extinction as a result of radical elements of Pakistani society and the government’s unwillingness to intervene. Our fellow Hindus in Sindh lack the comforts of personal safety, religious freedom, police protection, an unbiased education, balanced legislation, and a fair judicial process. As a result they are dying a slow, painful death without much help from India or other Sindhis around the world.
The sad account of Rinkel Kumari and thousands of other young girls is only the tip of the iceberg. Volumes of books can be written on the cruelty and genocide committed against Hindus who chose to live in Sindh even when many Hindus decided to leave. Be us in various parts of the globe let us all realize that our fragmented community is but a set of puzzle pieces that amount to nothing unless connected with our counterparts all over the world. It is imperative that we all do our part to engender this unity and strength among all Sindhis we know. Our motherland Sindh is pleading for help and our daughters are crying for it.