Diplomacy

India Issues Official Note to Pakistan on Abduction, Forced Conversion of Hindu Girls

India’s intervention came after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj called for a report from the Indian high commission.

New Delhi: India has issued a note verbale to Pakistan on the alleged kidnapping and forced conversion of two minor Hindu girls, and called on Islamabad to ensure the protection of minorities.

India’s intervention came after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj called for a report from the Indian high commission through her Twitter account on Sunday morning.

Swaraj’s tweet led to a sharp reaction from Pakistan information minister Fawad Chaudhry on Twitter. He noted that it was an internal Pakistani issue and said that India should “act with same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian minorities”.

This led to another round of exchange on Twitter, with Swaraj stating that Fawad’s retort showed Pakistan’s “guilty conscience”.

A few hours after the Indian high commission in Pakistan sent a report to the headquarters, an official note was issued to Islamabad.

According to sources, India has asked that “suitable remedial action be taken by Pakistan government to protect and promote safety, security and welfare of its own citizens, especially from the minority communities”.

This is not the first time that Indian government has taken up the matter.

As per written answers by several government officials in parliament, India “has from time to time, taken up the matter with the Government of Pakistan and has conveyed the expectation that the latter will look after the safety, security, well-being and will protect freedom of its minority communities”.

In May 2012, the Manmohan Singh government had issued a demarche to Pakistan over India’s “serious concerns on the matter of abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls against their will to Muslim men in Pakistan”.

“It was conveyed that it is our expectation that the Government of Pakistan will look after the well being of its minority communities and discharge its responsibility in this regard,” then minister of state for external affairs E/ Ahamed stated in a written reply in Rajya Sabha in August 2012.

Also read | Bring Back Our Girls: Pakistan’s Hindus Struggle Against Forced Conversions

As per the 1950 pact signed by Indian Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart, both countries shall ensure “to the minorities throughout its territory, complete equality of citizenship, irrespective of religion, a full sense of security in respect of life, culture, property and personal honour, freedom of movement within each country and freedom of occupation, speech and worship, subject to law and morality”.

This agreement was signed in the backdrop of heightened suspicion and continuing violence against minorities post-Partition in both the newly independent countries.

In their 2014 manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised to grant citizenship to Hindu refugees from neighbouring countries. The NDA government had earlier drafted a Bill that would grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It triggered major protests in the northeast, including from NDA allies, against the Bill perceived as a back channel to settle Bangladeshi Hindus in the sensitive region.

Before a gruelling election campaign, the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha, but was not taken up in Rajya Sabha before parliament was adjourned sine die last month.

As per reports, the two sisters, Reena and Raveena, were abducted, forcefully converted and then married on March 20 from their village Hafiz Salman in Sindh. A police complaint was registered by the father and brother of the two sisters on the same day.

Another girl, Shania was also reportedly abducted from Mirpukhas district on the same day, but not much detail has been reported in this case.

Sindh is home to a significant Hindu community, especially in the districts of Mirpukhas, Tharparkar and Umerkot which are near the Indian border. Most of the Hindu population living in these rural districts are from ‘lower’ castes and often work as agricultural labourers. The richer members of the Pakistani Hindu community have largely shifted to Karachi and do not face as many incidents of forced conversion as their rural counterparts.

A few days later after the abduction, a video emerged on social media showing the girls, Reena and Veena, being married to two men. A cleric claims in the video that the sisters wanted to become Muslims out of their own volition.

On Sunday, Fawad Chaudhry announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab to investigate the reports related to the two minor girls and recover them.

Chaudhry added that the Pakistani prime minister also directed authorities to take “concrete steps” against such incidents of abduction and forced conversions. He asserted that Pakistani minorities represent the white colour in the national flag and “we love all our colours and the protection of our flag is our responsibility”.

The Pakistan Hindu Council, headed by a member of the National Assembly, Ramesh Vankwani, has called for a resolution in the next session to condemn the kidnapping of Hindu girls.

The draft resolution circulated by Vankwani also names religious leaders who have been supporting such incidents. “All of those who are preaching hate under the cover of religion must be handled like banned religious organisations,” the resolution states.