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Sindh’s Stolen Brides

On the other side of the Thar, Hindus, especially girls, are forced into Islam

By Mariana Baabar

Hindus In Pakistan

Hindus constitute about 2.5 per cent, or 26 lakh, of Pakistan’s population.

Though sprinkled all over Pakistan, 95 per cent of Hindus are in Sindh.

Only Tharparkar district in Sindh has Hindus in majority: 51 per cent.

Other districts with sizeable population: Mirpur Khas (41 per cent), Sanghar (35 per cent), Umerkot (43 per cent)

Nearly 82 per cent of Pakistani Hindus are lower caste, most of them farm labourers

Cities with some Hindu population: Karachi, Hyderabad, Jacobabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

In Tharparkar, Hindus own land. Krishen Bheel, Gyan Chand and Ramesh Lal are the Hindus in the Pakistan National Assembly.

***

Let me confess at the outset: I’m travelling in rural Sindh to verify specifically the reported widespread menace of abduction of Hindu girls, their forcible conversion to Islam and betrothal to Muslim men. My first port of call is the district court of Mirpur Khas. I promptly mingle among the crowd waiting for the court’s decision on a kidnap-and-conversion case. Different voices narrate contradictory stories. I am befuddled for the moment.

Soon, a frisson of excitement sweeps through the throng, as a police van drives through the gate. Inside it is Mariam. She’s 13 years old—and married! Mariam was Mashu, and Hindu, till the night of December 22, 2005. I pick my way through the jostling crowd. Mariam is in a red burqa, her gold nose ring sparkles. She tells me, “I’m happy. I don’t want to return to my parents or brother.” What’s the fuss about, I wonder.

It’s quite another story under the pipal tree of the court compound. Huddled under it are the villagers of Jhaluree, 20 km from Mirpur Khas. Among them is Mashu’s father, Malo Sanafravo. He says that at 11 pm, December 22, four armed men barged into their room. One of them was Malo’s neighbour, Akbar. They picked up Mashu, bundled her into the waiting car. “She was taken to Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi’s village in Saamaaro tehsil.” There Mashu became Mariam and was married to Akbar.

Not true, insists husband Akbar. “Mariam has been always in my heart,” he gushes, saying, at 11 pm, December 22, it was she who had come over to his house. But it’s true that the Pir converted her and married them—it was his idea that they issue statements in the court. “Mariam was sent to Darul Aman in Hyderabad, in judicial custody,” Akbar declares.

A 13-year-old choosing to convert and marry? A 13-year-old testifying in the court, without her family by her side? Suspicious, I walk over to the SHO, caught in the middle of a heated exchange between two groups. Someone suggests he should allow the girl to meet her relatives. Before the conversion yes, not now. She has now become Muslim, says the SHO. He argues, “There’s a huge crowd here. If Mariam breaks down after seeing her father, there will be a communal riot here in the compound.”

A little later, there are celebrations as the word spreads: the court has allowed the couple to live together. Standing next to me is Kanjee Rano Bheel. He works for an NGO in the education sector; volunteers for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) as well. “In just two hours Mashu was converted and married,” Kanjee says incredulously.

Disappointment and helpless rage fleet across his face. “In Darul Aman the girls are kept away from parents and pressured into issuing statements favourable to the abductors. They tame stubborn girls through death threats.”

So, was Mashu abducted and forcibly converted?

In Mirpur Khas, truth resembles the mirage of the surrounding Thar desert, teasing and tormenting me as I drive from Karachi into interior Sindh. It tests your credulity, it challenges your journalistic skills. Wherever I go, and whoever I meet, in disconsolate voices the Hindus talk about ‘missing girls’; their stories resemble Mashu’s—the theme of abduction, conversion, often followed by marriage, is common to most narrations. The girls then appear in courts to issue statements declaring their conversion was voluntary. All links to the natal family and the community are severed; they are lost to the family forever. On January 4, 2005, Marvi, 18, and Hemi, 16, were kidnapped from Kunri village in Umerkot district; three months later, on March 3, 14-year-old Raji was abducted from Aslam Town Jhuddo, Mirpur Khas. The script in their cases was similar to Mashu’s. “Only 10 per cent of all conversions involving girls are voluntary; because of romance,” says Kanjee.

Ten per cent of what? No official figures are available. The DIG in Mirpur Khas, Saleemullah, says, “If there’s need I’ll collect these figures.

Saleemullah, perhaps, should tap the HRCP for statistics. Its director in Lahore, I.A. Rehman, is an honourable man. Rehman told Outlook that the HRCP has, between Jan 2000 to Dec 2005, documented 50 cases involving conversion of Hindu girls to Islam. Its investigations too endorse what I had found in interior Sindh. In many cases where it was claimed the girls had eloped with their Muslim partners, the HRCP found that most were, in fact, abducted, forcibly married to Muslim men or sold to them. There have been cases of Hindu girls, usually from economically better off families, eloping with their Muslim boyfriends. Rehman says in most cases such marriages didn’t last long. With links to their families cut off, the girls were subsequently forced to marry another Muslim or sucked into marriage rackets.

Nuzzhat Shirin, who works for the Lahore-based ngp Aurat Foundation, understands why the girls don’t reveal their plight at the time they are presented in court. “When a Hindu is forced to become Muslim, such a ruckus is made that if the young kidnapped girl appears in court, the fanatics yell, scream, throw rose petals in the air and follow the youth into the building so that she’s intimidated and can’t speak,” Shirin explains.

Social stigma arising from the loss of virginity, and the consequent difficulty of finding a groom, prompt these women to accept their misfortune—and hope for the best.

Fifty incidents in five years represents just a percentage of the total number of cases, says Kanjee, pointing out that a majority of such crimes go unreported. “There have been 50 such incidents last year,” insists Krishen Bheel, who is a Hindu member of the National Assembly (MNA), the Pakistani equivalent of the Lok Sabha. He begins to rattle out the cases he remembers: two months back Sapna was kidnapped and converted in upper Sindh; seven months earlier it was 17-year-old Lakshmi in Nawkot, and then…. “The trend is increasing,” he says. “If these conversions are voluntary, then how come boys rarely ever convert?”

Only once did the popular resentment against abduction spill out in the streets of Mirpur Khas. It was in the ’80s: a girl named Sita had been kidnapped. Some 70,000 Hindus turned up to protest the kidnapping. The police opened fire, killing several. “Sita was never returned,” Krishen laments. “She had even told Justice Dhorab Patel, who later joined the HRCP, that she had been forcibly converted. We have now stopped agitating.”

Instead, the Hindus take the support of civil rights groups and the media to publicise abduction cases, hoping public scrutiny would goad the state into action.

On Dec 30, the day after the Mariam case was disposed, the Supreme Court took cognisance of the complaint Qosheela’s parents from Ghotki, Sindh, had filed. They claimed their 13-year-old girl had been kidnapped, converted, given the name of Hajra and married to a Muslim man. The girl, as in most other cases, had said she had converted of her own free will. A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, ordered the medical examination of the girl to determine whether she had attained puberty (Islam permits marriage at that age). Should it be proved otherwise, the husband could be tried for rape.

Even cities are not immune to the menace. Last year, Sammo Amra and Champa in Karachi received a letter from their three missing daughters—Reena (21), Reema (17) and Usha (19)—informing that they had converted to Islam and were ordained under the dictates of their new religion not to live with infidels, including their Hindu parents. The letter bore the address of Madrassa Taleemul Islam, Karachi. It prompted Supreme Court Bar Association president Malik Mohammad Qayyum to petition the Supreme Court in the first week of December. He accused the religious seminary’s administrator of using coercive methods to convert the three girls. On December 16, the court ordered the police to shift the girls to the Edhi Welfare Centre and provide protection to them until the time it was ascertained they had been indeed compelled to convert to Islam.

Sensitive Muslim citizens feel the way to counter the menace is to reinterpret and widen the scope of law.

Major (retd) Kamran Shafi, an absentee landlord from Sindh, cites the case of 17-year-old Kochlia, who was kidnapped and gangraped in Jacobabad, Sindh, in Sept 2005. Four men were arrested for the crime. They were subsequently released because Kochlia stated in the court she had converted and was married to one of them. Shafi asks, “Isn’t something very, very wrong here? Suppose the poor girl was forced into changing her religion and marrying one of the assailants so that they get off the hook? Can’t the state prosecute the four on its own, for their original crime of rape?”

The three Hindu MNAs—Krishen Bheel, Gyan Chand and Ramesh Lal—raised the Kochlia case in the National Assembly. They claimed Kochlia’s statement was not tenable as under the local Hindu custom and law a girl can’t marry of her own will until the age of 20. Since Kochlia is a minor, her abductors should be tried for rape. Such an interpretation of existing laws could provide ample relief to Hindus.

Till then, though, the fear of kidnap stalks the Hindus of Pakistan. Krishen Bheel says Hindu girls are scared to go out; he has enrolled his own children into a Christian school. He points to Mirpur Khas’ strange predicament: there’s freedom to worship, there are 10 temples which bustle through the day with devotees; and yet Hindu girls here are kidnapped and converted—and the community humiliated.

Perhaps these abductions are part of the general scenario of crime against women in rural Pakistan (see box). Perhaps they are converted and married to criminals to enable the latter to escape the dragnet of the law. Yet, such arguments don’t comfort the Hindus. Sat Ram, of Shadi Bali village near Mirpur Khas, says Hindu girls are deprived of education because their parents are apprehensive of sending them to schools located at a distance. “They receive education only till the primary level. It isn’t safe to send them to school after that.”

But the plight of Hindu women can’t be seen just through the prism of gender discrimination rampant in rural Sindh. Reena Gul, of Sattar Nagar village, Mirpur Khas, says the boys too are converted but their numbers are very few. The community here feels it is the Islamist’s agenda to drive out non-Muslims from Pakistan. In fact, Krishen told the National Assembly that even Hindu businessmen are being kidnapped in Sindh for ransom. He said on the floor of the House, “Several religious parties are reportedly behind the move to convince the people that it is their responsibility to get rid of infidels from Pakistan, (that) taking ransom from non-Muslims is not a sin.”

I now set out to meet Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi, whose name surfaces repeatedly in conversion stories. The drive from Mirpur Khas to Sarhandi village, Somarho tehsil, is through a picturesque landscape. Peacocks dance in the field and gypsies pitch their tents for the night. Even the Pir appears tranquil, his white flowing beard and winsome disposition camouflaging his mission.

Yet, when he begins to talk, he conceals nothing. Yes, the Pir declares, he has been converting the Hindus for the last 30 years. Perhaps his claims of converting a 1,000 families a year is a boast. “There’s a surah in the Quran which speaks specifically about conversion, especially about conversion of women,” he says to justify his mission. “Recently, three Hindu girls were brought to me. I named them Benazir, Sanam and Nusrat,” he reveals, with the righteous air of someone who had bestowed a favour. “These Hindu women are mistreated by their husbands who do nothing but watch TV.”

The Pir rubbishes the allegation that he converts abducted Hindu girls. The unwilling are sent back. Yet, he adds in the same breath, “In many cases Hindu girls are kidnapped and kept as keeps. But these keeps are not converted. But believe me, they are very happy.”

I express the desire to meet the women whom he had converted and found sanctuary with him. The Pir agrees, even allows us to photograph them, contrary to the local tradition. Into the room, the women walk. Rehana, 50, was earlier Nabee; she converted three years ago, after the death of her husband. “I had no one to turn to. If we do not convert we would not be helped by this family.” It was the same reason for 35-year-old Mariam, who came here seven years back. “Under the Pir’s protection, I earn at least Rs 200 a month.” Ruksana was earlier Chotee, and hails from Umerkot. Extreme poverty and a drug-addict husband persuaded her to take the extreme step. “I brought my four kids as well,” she declares.

As I talk to these women, I realise most of them are widows or wallowing in poverty. I mention this to the Pir. He says, “The government is responsible for all Hindus and non-Hindus. When the government doesn’t help them, they come to us.”

Forced or economically enticed, the Hindu converts do not symbolise Islam’s appeal. Rather they represent the state’s failure to provide succour to the poor and protect their religious rights. Perhaps it’s also symptomatic of the sickness afflicting the Pakistani state. As they say, the condition of the minorities is an indicator of a nation’s health.

Courtesy: OutLook

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The true victims of religious extremism

– By Dr. Manzur Ejaz, DAWN.COM

He is a polygamist religious leader who married many women, including underage girls, and raped a minor. He banned parades, dances and magazines like the Sports Illustrated and Car and Driver and yet revelled in the company of multiple wives.

If this description brings to mind an Arab sheikh or a Taliban leader, you are way off the mark. The man is neither an Asian Muslim of Arab or Afghan descent nor is he from a primitive society. Rather, he is Warren Jeffs, 55, a Caucasian who was heading the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in America. The Christian sect, with a membership of 10,000, preaches that “polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.” But Mr Jeffs’ idea of reaching to the heaven was pretty botched up, with him marrying and raping underage girls. …

Read more → WICHAAR.COM → DAWN.COM

The army narrative: fiction

by Dr Manzur Ejaz

The fallacious super-religious-patriotic narrative has been created by the army to preserve its superiority in the Pakistani state for perks that are not available to any other armed forces in the whole wide world.

Once again it has been proved that no one can beat Pakistan’s army in turning a military defeat into a propaganda conquest for the people of Pakistan. After the 1965 debacle and 1971 surrender in East Bengal, the Pakistan Army has concentrated less on defending Pakistan and more on refining and perfecting the Machiavellian politics and techniques of propaganda to confuse and mislead the unsuspecting masses of the country.

The US’s Abbottabad operation was a colossal failure of the Pakistan Army because first it did not know if Osama bin Laden was living next door to an elite military academy — if one accepts their claim — and then who took his dead body away unless President Obama called President Zardari. Instead of explaining its incompetence on both accounts, the military took the propaganda offensive while seeking refuge behind the civilian leaders just like the 1971 defeat and Kargil disaster. Not only that, the army chided the poor elected politicians through General Shuja Pasha, Director General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Parliament was forced to pass an army-pleasing resolution, which had no mention of terrorism eating up the country.

The Pakistan Army, with the help of gravely uniformed and corporate media, has created a narrative for all ills in Pakistan as a consequence of the US intervention in Afghanistan. The narrative claims that the US is forcing the country to fight its war on terror while Pakistan is offering huge sacrifices for nothing. The entire narrative is constructed to provide political cover to the army’s misplaced policy goals as well as to the Taliban, al Qaeda and jihadi groups. The fact is that Pakistan has neither helped the US’s war on terror nor has it done anything more than inflicting wounds to its own body that it categorises as ‘sacrifices’. The narrative is based on fallacies that need to be examined closely.

First, Pakistan has not been dragged into the war on terror by the US only. Pakistan had become a nursery of terrorists that led to international bombings, including the dramatic incidents of 9/11, which dragged the US into the war on terror. Of course, the US was the main producer of Islamic jihadis with Pakistani collaboration, but the seeds of Islamic extremism had been put in place by General Ziaul Haq much before the American participation. As a matter of fact, seeds of religious intolerance and extremism were sown in the early 1950s by passing ‘Qarardaad-e-Maqaasid’ (the Objectives Resolution).

Second, suicide bombings in Pakistan are not only due to Pakistan’s so-called cooperation with the US. Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other jihadis had no need to use violence in Pakistan because the state was not only accommodating them but was helping them to conquer Afghanistan by all means. The religious extremist forces were going to use violent means the day the Pakistani state stood in their way. The incident of the Red Mosque is cited as a trigger for the suicide attacks and that proves the point that armed Islamist forces were going to hit Pakistan if the state put any hurdle in their way. The process was accelerated because, under US pressure, it became difficult for the Pakistani state to accommodate the religious terrorists and hence suicide bombings were unleashed on Pakistan.

Third, Pakistan has not done more to stop religious terrorism than other countries because its doings are just partial remedies for its self-inflicted wounds. According to this part of the narrative, Pakistan has done more by catching and handing over more religious terrorists to the world community than any other country. But, why were all such terrorists found in Pakistan and not in any other country in the first place? Should other countries produce more religious terrorists and then hand them over to the US to compete with Pakistan? Naturally, more terrorists will be nabbed in a country where they are found. Therefore, this part of the establishment narrative is absolutely ridiculous.

Four, Pakistan will not become a safer place if it cuts its ties with the US. However, Pakistan can become a dreadfully silent place if Islamisation and Talibanisation is given a free hand to turn it into a primitive theocratic state. If the state or the other sections of society resist Islamisation in the country, violence will accelerate, destroying every institution of the state even after Pakistan distances itself from the US. Therefore, the US or no US, religious extremism is a reality in Pakistan and has to be recognised as such.

Continue reading The army narrative: fiction

Babar Ayaz: reality check?

ROVER’S DIARY: Is it a blind spot or blindness to reality?

by Babar Ayaz

Excerpt:

While the military is selectively fighting the terrorist organisations and thousands of our security personnel have been martyred, they have not challenged the ideology of jihad. Thousands of mosques, madrassas and religious organisations are preaching jihad against the west and its allied governments in the Muslim countries

Terrorists who attacked the PNS Mehran on May 22 knew the ‘security blind spot’. At least that is what the Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the media soon after the operation. Further follow-up reports confirmed his observation. Now the entire media is asking how the terrorists knew about this ‘blind spot’.

The obvious conclusion is that the terrorists have some sympathisers inside the forces. This suspicion is further corroborated by the fact that the routes and timings of the naval buses, which came under attack a month ago, were seemingly also compromised by some insiders. The attackers on GHQ also had insiders with them. Musharraf’s assassination attempts were also done with insiders’ help. Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his guard, abetted by his colleagues. So there is not one blind spot we are talking about. It seems that many people among our security establishment, politicians and journalists are ‘blind’ to the bigger reality. ….

…. A question can be asked here that if we were wrong to wage war against Afghanistan jointly with the US in the 1980s, then how are we right now to side with Washington’s war in Afghanistan? We should remember that Najibullah’s government survived about three years after the Soviet forces left. But we were the ones who trained and funded the Taliban to take over the government. We opposed the Afghan government, which wanted to turn its country into a modern democratic state, and imposed a Taliban government, which could only give them primitive medievalism.

And when it came to choosing sides, the same protégé Taliban government sacrificed relations with Pakistan and the future of Afghans to save Osama — a champion of a permanent Islamic revolution. We then started playing the double game and gave protection to the Taliban who are till today intruding into Afghanistan. They are the cause of the drone attacks. Sir, you remove them, these attacks will stop.

We continue to dangerously mix religion with politics. The Pakistani establishment also started using jihadi organisations to destabilise India — a major mistake because it was bound to boomerang sooner than later. So the people who think that terrorism is because of drone attacks and our involvement in Afghanistan should not blindfold themselves with narrow nationalistic gauze. They should face the reality that Pakistan is undoubtedly directly and indirectly involved in terrorist activities in our neighbourhood, using the jihadi ideology. The same ideology has been turned by the terrorist groups into the belief that the Pakistani establishment is a renegade of the Islamic jihadi movement. The same ideology is providing the terrorists support from within our security establishment.

So what is to be done? The security establishment should shun the jihadi ideology and support to such groups, closely monitor that in the name of preaching Islam its rank and file is not indoctrinated with hate mongering, and purge the supporters of these organisations. The politicians should take the ideological challenge and develop a communication strategy scientifically to convince the people that the terrorists have declared war against Pakistanis using religion, and that we have to stand united for building a modern, democratic secular Pakistan. This is not a war against terrorism; it is defending Pakistanis from terrorism. Nothing short of that will work now.

To read complete article: Daily Times

Pakistan can no longer be ruled from Islamabad

National Integration – Masood Sharif Khan Khattak

Communication infrastructure, domestic tourism, undiluted provincial autonomy and bonding through the workplace play a vital role in the integration of a nation. Pakistan’s national integration has suffered immensely because these factors have never been crucially important to our leadership. Pakistan’s communication infrastructure is primitive, domestic tourism is non-existent, provincial autonomy only receives lip-service and bonding through the workplace is totally missing except in the armed forces. Uniform development across the country over the past sixty years would have solidly integrated the Pakistani nation but that did not happen due to absolute incompetence, poor leadership and corruption at all levels. The price Pakistan is paying for its neglect is in the shape of an internally disjointed nation forced to suffer the present-day indignities in the shape of terrorism and insurgency.

The political and military establishment must now understand that the military potential of any country is multiplied manifolds when it is backed by a nation that is well-integrated. An integrated nation can cover up for military shortfalls but military strength cannot cover up for the shortfalls of a nation that lacks integration and cohesion. The Soviet Union’s break-up in 1991 is an example that amply illustrates this aspect. Pakistan must, therefore, accord top priority to uniform development throughout the country in order to have a nation that can back its enviable military potential in a solid manner; if not, then all will be lost.

Nawaz Sharif deserves the credit for initiating the modern communication infrastructure of Pakistan that is so essential for the integration of a nation that lives in a country as big as Pakistan. The launching of the Lahore-Islamabad motorway by Nawaz Sharif in the early 90s was a huge step in the right direction. If the process had been initiated decades ago Pakistan today would have been a very cohesively integrated nation. …

Read more : PKcoluminist.com