Rinkle Kumari's case was one of the many incidents of conversion in Pakistan, but relentless struggle by the Hindu community has brought it into the limelight, says Tahir Ali
The Hindu community in Pakistan will be keenly watching the Supreme Court trial that starts on Monday to decide the fate of Rinkle Kumari -- a 19-year-old girl who was allegedly kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and then forced to marry a Muslim boy.
Though the forcible conversion of Hindu girls to Islam is nothing new in Pakistan, Rinkle's case has received much national and international publicity.
The Hindu community is optimistic of a positive outcome to the trial.
Rinkle was allegedly abducted in Mirpur Mathelo, a small town in interior Sindh on February 24. She had recently completed her intermediate studies and was planning to visit Karachi to shop for her brother's wedding.
Initially, Rinkle was reported missing but she soon emerged with her husband Naveed Shah, and supported by a large number of armed Pakistan Peoples Party activists.
Rinkle, who changed her name to Faryal Shah, announced to the media that she had embraced Islam and married Naveed Shah of her own free will.
"I got married and converted to Islam of my free will," Rinkle revealed to a court in Sindh.
But neither her family nor the rest of the Hindu community believed the revelation of the girl, as such forcible conversions have become a common practice in interior Sindh. In the last four months, 47 cases of abductions of Hindu girls have been reported in Sindh.
Members of the Hindu community alleged that the policemen investigating the case and the judges of the court were under pressure from PPP lawmakers. They claimed that the civil judge, instead of allowing the girl to go with her parents, sent her to Daral-Aman where she was mentally pressurised to give a statement in favour of her husband. She was not allowed to meet her parents.
Nand Lal, Rinkle's father, is a primary school teacher. According to him, his daughter had no relations with Naveed Shah and could not possibly have eloped with him.
"She did not even know the person. We have no internet or telephone connection at home, so there is no way she could have been in touch with Naveed," said Nand Lal.
He added, "If she had planned to elope, she would have taken her slippers and her sweater along with her. But she was kidnapped barefoot and without any warm clothes, despite the cold weather."
Veerji Kohli, a human rights activist, told rediff.com, "Forcible conversion is the easiest way to marry a Hindu girl; this practice is explicitly related to Islamic fundamentalists but it is a tool used by Muslims in this particular region to marry a young Hindu girl without any problem. For a pretty Hindu girl, her beauty becomes her enemy. She is likely to be kidnapped, followed by forcible conversion and marriage to a Muslim man."
Kohli blames PPP member of parliament Mian Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitho and his family members for the abduction and conversion of Rinkle.
"PPP activists are openly supporting Naveed Shah. Even the son of Mian Mitho was present in court when the couple was brought there. Naveed Shah's family is very close to Mina Mitho," said Veerji.
Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi from Umarkoot, a leading cleric, has always been blamed for his role in the forcible conversion of Hindu girls. Members of the Hindu community allege that the Pir often provided shelter to people who took away their girls and then organised their marriages. Pir Sarhandi also proudly claimed that he has converted nearly 10,000 Hindu women. But his name has not been mentioned in connection with this particular incident.
Members of the Hindu community allege that Mian Mitho's family members were openly supporting the abductor and his men were involved in the kidnapping of Rinkle.
The conversion of Hindu women has exposed the community to the most extreme level of social humiliation and cultural stigma. Hundreds of Hindu women have been converted to Islam in Sindh. Though in some cases Hindu women have converted of their own will, the rate of forcible conversion remains high.
According to minister of state for national harmony Akram Masih Gill, 'sexual lust' is the key reason that makes Muslim men force non-Muslim girls to convert.
"Hindu girls are being sexually abused by young Muslim men, who force them to convert when their sexual offence became an issue in society. Those young people accept such girls as their legal wives with the pre-condition that they embrace Islam. The girls are kidnapped by young men and after meeting their sexual desires, they are forced to change their religion and convert to Islam," said Gill.
Initially, Rinkle was one of the many cases of conversion in the region and the government had taken the incident lightly, as an influential leader of the ruling PPP was behind it.
But members of the Hindu community continued with their struggle and succeeded in forcing the authorities to lodge a case by staging protests, with shopkeepers striking and demonstrators blocking a highway.
The case garnered support from the international community when United States Congressman Brad Sherman wrote a letter to President Asif Ali Zardari, asking him to take all necessary steps to bring an end to the harassment of minorities in Pakistan.
Gradually, Rinkle's case received support from some members of parliament and attracted extensive media coverage.
Dr Azra Fazl, a member of the Pakistan National Assembly and sister of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, stated in Parliament, "Hindu girls were kidnapped and held against their will in Sindh madrasas".
Dr Fazl warned that the court needed to assess the mistreatment of minority communities in Pakistan and protect their rights.
Akram Masih Gill has called for strong legislation against forced conversions, stating that it is required to protect minorities. According to Gill, such a practice is against the injunctions of Islam, as the Shariah prohibits forced conversions.
Nafeesa Shah, another member of the National Assembly from Sindh, has endorsed the idea and said that parliament should introduce legislation on forced conversions.
"Protection of minorities should be ensured as enshrined in the Constitution," Shah added.
But according to Mian Mitho, if the PPP was seen as being responsible for introducing the legislation, it would greatly damage the party's chances in the next general election.
He claimed, "Pakistan is an Islamic Republic. Since Faryal Shah (Rinkle) had said she had converted of her own free will, a ban on conversion is redundant."
According to the National Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue and Ecumenism, Pakistan is home to nearly 39 lakh Hindus. Most members of the minority community belong to impoverished agricultural families.
Some human right activists claim that nearly 10 Hindu families leave Pakistan each month due to the insecurities attached to belonging to the minority community.
With the case of Rinkle making its way to the powerful Supreme Court, the Hindu community is hopeful about finally getting justice on the issue of forced conversions.
"We hope Rinkle will get justice in the SC and she will be handed over to her parents," Haroon Sayab Diyal, chairman of the Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, told rediff.com.