Islamabad, Sept 13 /DNA/ – “Forced conversion is a hoax that has no proven factual basis at all but is used to damage the image of Pakistan, its society, and the state.”
This was the view of a group of academics, activists, and civil society members who had gathered in Islamabad to question the nature of religious conversions in Pakistan, and more particularly in Sindh.
Mian Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitho of Bharchundi Sharif (Ghotki) was also present and had to respond to several striking questions on his role in such conversions and the allegations leveled against him of forcibly converting scores of individuals to Islam.
Vehemently denying these allegations, Mitho said that people have been coming for over two centuries to Bharchundi Sharif . Even the famous Muslim scholar Ubaidullah Sindhi had converted to Islam here. During colonial times, the British rulers had investigated the phenomenon and got convinced of the genuineness of the conversions in places like these, and they had developed a framework to streamline and record the conversions. “You would not find a single case at our monastery where force is used to convert someone; I request you to visit the place yourself and investigate the facts to vindicate the allegation against Pakistan”, he insisted.
Mian Aslam, son of Mian Mitho and a lawyer himself said that it was against Islam to forcibly convert a person, but when a person is voluntarily converting to Islam, he or she should not be allowed to be pressurized, victimized, and obstructed by his or her peers and society. “I confess that not even a single person has accepted Islam on my persuasion, but the people who are inspired by Islam and its socio-cultural tenets come to us for conversion and for protection against the patriarchs and their religious elders”, Mian Mitho said.
Denying the popular perception against him, Mitho said that he had several Hindus working at his home and lands whom he could convert if he had ever believed in forced conversion but “they freely profess their faith and enjoy the protection that we offer them as Muslims”.
He informed the audience that every individual, couple, family, or group who would approach them for conversion is not only given free choice but under an agreement with Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of Pakistan Hindu Council, sent to the local head of Hindu community to have a meeting with their parents. “In a couple of cases, girls have preferred to return to their parents, and we had no objection over it. For those, however, who would still like to convert, we have our arms open and do not deny them the option to eternal success”, he said.
Responding to the set of questions regarding the famous case of Rinkal Kumari, Mian Aslam said that the lady had expressed her willingness to convert at every forum from the Civil Court to the Supreme Court despite the fact that she was sent to jail and to shelter home of an NGO for three months against her will. “Faryal Shah [previously Rinkal Kumari] has recently performed ‘Umrah and imparts religious education to girls of her vicinity as a practicing Muslim”, he informed.
Contrary to what is propagated, those who convert to Islam undergo discrimination and persecution at the hands of their community, and local authorities in most of the cases. A recent convert Dua Fatima has alleged that she was severely tortured by her family and Hindu community on showing her interest in Islam. Her husband was tortured so much that he remained hospitalized for several days. This side of the picture is totally blacked out.
Rao Abdur Raheem advocate, who was present in the meeting, said that he had heard of a Hindu female being forced into Islam, and had travelled all the way from Islamabad to offer her legal assistance. But the lady told her that she had converted with her free will and was thankful to Mian Mitho and his family for their assistance and protection.
Ghulam Hussain, a researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) disclosed that he had studied several NGO reports in search of some evidence that supports the allegation of forced conversions in Pakistan but had found no “verifiable evidence”. He said that he had conducted extensive field visits to gather data of nearly 6000 converts and had interviewed over one hundred individuals in Sindh from diverse backgrounds. “Data is still being analyzed but I did not find even one case of forced conversion”, he underscored.
Khalid Rahman, Chairman of IPS, said that there was a need to show commitment to truth and let the world explore it instead of falling for the rhetoric. He urged the members of civil society to accept the offer from Mian Mitho to visit the area and understand the phenomenon firsthand.
He said that the Parliamentary Committee on this issue had not identified any specific case of forced conversion but had proposed a highly controversial bill against religious conversions. “Such instances reinforce the perception that the legislation is not based on facts but is done under false flag propaganda and pressure by local and foreign elements”, he concluded.