'Abduction', conversion of Sikh teenager in Pakistan's Punjab angers minorities; woman says she embraced Islam willingly

The teenager, Jagjit Kaur, released a statement on Thursday saying she has married a Muslim and converted to Islam of her own volition even as her family alleges that an influential Muslim family has kidnapped her at gunpoint

Kaswar Klasra August 31, 2019 19:19:39 IST
'Abduction', conversion of Sikh teenager in Pakistan's Punjab angers minorities; woman says she embraced Islam willingly
  • The nineteen-year-old daughter of a Sikh priest in Punjab province’s Nankana Sahib went missing from her home on Tuesday

  • The teenager, Jagjit Kaur, released a statement Thursday saying she has married a Muslim and converted to Islam of her own volition

  • Enraged, Pakistan’s Sikh community has set up a 30-member team to take up the issue with the government

Islamabad: The alleged conversion of a Sikh teen in Pakistan has touched a raw nerve with minorities and sparked an outcry.

The nineteen-year-old daughter of a Sikh priest in Punjab province’s Nankana Sahib — the birthplace of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak — went missing from her home on Tuesday. The teenager, Jagjit Kaur, released a statement Thursday saying she has married a Muslim and converted to Islam of her own volition. However, her family alleges that an influential Muslim family has kidnapped her at gunpoint.

Enraged, Pakistan’s Sikh community has set up a 30-member team to take up the issue with the government. Punjab province too has formed a high-powered committee headed by provincial Law Minister Raja Basharat to engage with the committee.

Abduction conversion of Sikh teenager in Pakistans Punjab angers minorities woman says she embraced Islam willingly

A Sikh gilr in Pakistan's Punjab was allegedly forcibly converted and married to a Muslim man, leading to furore in the community. ANI

That this event unfolded only days before Pakistan is to hold a three-day international Sikh conference starting Saturday adds to the sensitivity of the matter. District Police Officer (DPO) of Nankana Sahib, Faisal Shahzad, informed the Inspector General of Punjab on Friday that they need to act swiftly to pacify the Sikh community lest they disrupt the conference in Lahore.

Shahzad said the discontent of the minorities is gathering steam. He said he informed the Inspector General that anti-government sentiment was boiling among the Sikh youth. Emotions are running high in Nankana Sahib in particular. The Sikhs held sporadic protests across Pakistan to condemn the incident.

Nankana Sahib police  registered an First Information Report against six people based on the complaint filed by Kaur’s brother. DPO Shahzad said police arrested an accused and are conducting raids to nab the other suspects. He further said Kaur has been sent to government custody in Lahore.

Kaur approaches court

Meanwhile, Kaur approached the police through local lawyer Sheikh Sultan and demanded security for her husband. In a written statement given to the police through Sultan, Kaur contended that her husband is under threat from her family. The police, however, denied her request on the grounds that her family has been polite.

Sultan said Kaur was not kidnapped and has embraced Islam out of her own will. He said her new name is Ayesha and she has started the legal process to change her name in government records. Sultan has filed a writ petition with the Lahore High Court on Kaur's behalf, accusing her family and the local police of harassment. The petition accompanies a letter from Kaur stating she is an adult and has married and changed religion under no pressure.

The police, for their part, have submitted Kaur’s nikaahnama (wedding document) and age proof to the court, confirming her age as 19. Kaur's family and the Sikh community have been urging the government to bring her home.

On Thursday, civil society in Pakistan joined the protest. “Forced conversion of girls hailing from minorities, be it Hindus, Christians or Sikhs, isn’t acceptable at any cost. The government of Pakistan as well as millions of Pakistanis must discourage this,” said Kishwar Naheed, a prominent Pakistani poetess and a renowned scholar, over the phone. She has been conferred with Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence), Pakistan’s third highest civilian honour.

Internationally acclaimed Pakistani lawyer Babar Sitar said, “It’s condemnable. It’s the State’s responsibility to ensure an environment where minorities are free to exercise their religious rights.”

On 5 July, thousands of Hindus, including women and children, hit the streets in Pakistan’s biggest cities to condemn the kidnapping and forced conversion of young girls. Large protests were held over the same issue in Kohistan belt comprising parts of Jamshoro and Thatta districts just last Thursday.

Protesters claim that more than 50 girls from minority communities have been kidnapped over the past four months. Many believe this is an underhand tactic to drive the Hindus out of Pakistan.

“We need protection. The government must safeguard the rights of Hindus and other minorities. Prime Minister Imran Khan needs to take steps in ensuring our rights before it gets too late,” Hindu activist Bheeko Lal said.

In Pakistan, an Islamic Republic of about 200 million Muslims, the Hindus make up 1.6 percent of the population, estimated to be numbering about 3.6 million as per the 2018 census.

“We are very worried. We cannot afford to send our children to India or other countries to avoid forced conversion,” said 46-year-old Sanao Menghwar from Nawab Shah in the Sindh province, where Pakistan’s majority of Hindus live.

Shrine under scrutiny

A Sufi shrine in Sindh province’s Dharki region, Dargah Burchundi Sharif, is rumoured to be at the epicentre of forced conversions. The custodian of the shrine, Abdul Khaliq Mitha, said there is no truth to these allegations.

He said that while he does arrange the conversion of Hindu girls at the shrine, all these are voluntary. He said these girls want to marry Muslims and thus embrace Islam. He said he does not send teams to scout girls for conversion. He said many Hindu women work at his home and the shrine, but they have never been forced to adopt Islam.

“We don’t believe in forcing someone to convert,” Mitha stated.

Mitha, a close friend and a spiritual mentor of Imran, said the Hindus are free and entitled to practise their religion in Pakistan and nobody is allowed to disturb them.

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