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‘RIP minorities of Pakistan’ — politicians junk bill meant to stop forced conversions

PTI lawmaker Lal Chand Malhi said that the 'conservative mindset' of some members in his party was an additional roadblock for the bill.

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New Delhi: A Pakistani Parliamentary Committee Wednesday rejected the proposed anti-forced religious conversion bill, a move that was met with protests and criticism from lawmakers belonging to the country’s minority communities, as well as from some sections of the media and Twitter.

According to a Dawn report, the proposed law would have criminalised forced religious conversions by awarding a punishment of 5-10 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1-2 lakh. Abettors to forced conversion could be imprisoned for 3-5 years and fined Rs 1 lakh, according to the bill.

The Express Tribune reported that the bill was struck down by the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions due to opposition from the country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, with minister Sahibzada Noorul Haq Qadri stating that the current environment was “unfavourable” for such a bill to be passed into law.

Qadri spoke further on the bill Friday in his appearance on Shahzeb Khanzada’s GEO News show, claiming that forced religious conversion was a problem limited to “three districts” of Sindh while remaining a rarity in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan provinces.

Senator from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and member of the Jamaat-e-Islami Mushtaq Ahmed Khan was also among those who opposed the bill, labelling it “anti-Islam”

Among the critics of the decision to reject the bill were Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) lawmakers Lal Chand Malhi and Ramesh Kumar Vankwani.

While Malhi said that the rejection would make minorities’ lives in Pakistan a “living hell”, Vankwani alleged that Hindus have been lured into forced religious conversion through monetary bribes and promises of marriage, Dawn reported.

In an interview with The Express Tribune, Malhi added that the “conservative mindset” of some PTI members was an additional roadblock for the bill.

The Tribune also interviewed the parliamentary committee’s chair senator Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar who argued that forced religious conversion arises more often from “financial, social and sexual context, than religious and spiritual.”

“Ninety eight per cent of forced conversion cases take place with underprivileged girls, who run away from their homes. There’s seldom been any case like such for women who are doctors and engineers, or just higher up the social class,” ul-Haq added.

Editorials in Pakistani dailies Dawn and The Tribune also criticised the bill’s rejection. While the former lamented the “majoritarian view” prevailing, the latter said the minority lawmakers’ criticisms were “valid”.

“Ask the right-wing lobby and they will all largely agree that forced conversions are wrong from a religious point of view. But they refuse to countenance any practical measures that will stop this reprehensible practice,” Dawn said.

“…no one should be disgraced and forced to convert. At the same time, Islam too ensures that religion is by choice of faith after learning it by head and heart. The need is to reevaluate the bill’s fine print, in an attempt to ensure communal harmony in good faith,” The Tribune said.

Some users on Twitter also weighed in.

“Shahzeb Khanzada grilled Religious affairs minister Peer Noor – ul- Qadri on forced conversion bill. Minister clearly refused to carry the forced conversion bill & told this will bring conflict in country. Rip minorities of Pakistan,” journalist Abdullah Momand said.

“Forced conversion targets young women, in a systematic pattern of abuse, and is a key way in which militarized masculinities operates in Pakistan, because remember these actors have protection. Hate crimes against all genders and minors go up when this is condoned,” user Nosheen Ali claimed.

“This whole narrative around forced Conversion in Pakistan was/is a hoax. You people don’t have a shred of evidence to prove your claim and yet you lie to your teeth day in and day out,” Mohammad Saad said in response to Ali, citing research papers in an attempt to debunk Ali.

“You’re responsible for the forced conversion of little girls, snatching them from their families, & their sexual abuse by pedophiles who kidnap them,” filmmaker and activist Usama Khilji called out the politicians who opposed the bill.


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