‘Dangerous’ against ‘Islam’, Pakistan politicians oppose bill protecting Hindus and Sikhs from forced conversion

Pakistan lawmakers have rejected an anti-conversion bill, intended to bring relief to its religious minorities like Hindus and Sikhs from forced conversions and marriages, often executed by radical Islamists, terming the bill "unIslamic"

Oct 14, 2021
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Pakistan politicians oppose bill protecting Hindus and Sikhs from forced conversion

Pakistan lawmakers have rejected an anti-conversion bill, intended to bring relief to its religious minorities like Hindus and Sikhs from forced conversions and marriages, often executed by radical Islamists, terming the bill "unIslamic". The move drew sharp criticisms from lawmakers belonging to minority communities. 
 
The “environment is unfavorable” for such a law, said Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri on Wednesday when the draft came up for discussions in Parliament Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversion, according to a report in Dawn.

The bill, if passed, will impair peace in the country, he claimed, adding minorities will be more “vulnerable.”

Forced conversions of religious minorities, often of underage girls, are very common in Pakistan. The government has historically failed to stop such incidents supposedly because of the pressure from Islamists-- who are often behind these incidents-- and whose writ runs in the rural parts of the country. 

Even the country’s judiciary, the last place for the victims to take refuge, fails to provide relief in the absence of adequate laws. Hence, the need for a bill to protect minorities from forced religious conversion arises. 

For vulnerable communities,  it has been a long-standing demand. 

However, it has always been clear that any such bill, if comes, would definitely face resistance from Islamist religious parties in the country--as happened in this case too. Radical groups and religious parties like JUI have even expressed their displeasure. 

In 2019, when a few cases of forced conversions were reported in the international media, drawing sharp criticism for the country over the issue of religious freedom, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised to bring legislation to end the practice.

Opposing the bill, the religious minister said the setting the age for forced conversion--as proposed in the bill -  goes against “Islam” and “Constitution of Pakistan.” He further said the law minister had warned him against legislating a bill he called “dangerous”. 

Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, who belongs to a hardline religious party named Jamat-e-Islami, went on to claim that no such problem of forced conversions existed in Pakistan. "This bill is anti-Islam," he was quoted as saying by Dawn. 

Another Senator, Lal Chand Malhi, who belongs to the minority Hindu community and comes from the ruling PTI party, warned those opposing the bill. He said, "You are cornering minorities and such decisions [rejecting the bill] will make life a living hell for minorities in this country."

The government, which is already facing the heat from radical Islamists groups, is unlikely to push the bill that will further antagonize Islamists. However, the debate on the bill and the comments by the country’s lawmakers give a sense of the extent of the insecurities of religious minorities in Pakistan. 

(SAM)