Sonia, a Hindu teenage girl, was recently kidnapped by members of the powerful Domki clan from her home in Kandhkot, Sindh, according to her family.
Sonia’s parents searched everywhere for her but couldn’t find their beloved daughter. Bebo Ram, her father, went to the local police station to lodge a complaint and tirelessly knocked on every door he could but still could not find his daughter. As the days and nights went by in agonising wait, after some time he saw a picture of his daughter doing the rounds on social media. She was seen sitting before Mian Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitha at the famous Dargah Bharchundi Sharif shrine of upper Sindh.
Ram couldn’t believe his eyes. He knew what this meant as he understood well the power and persona of Mian Mitha, who is infamous for allegedly orchestrating forced conversions and marriages of Hindu girls in Sindh.
“Sonia was converted to Islam and given the Muslim name of Maryam, before being married to Ghulam Mohiuddin. Now, she cannot even meet her parents,” asserted Ravi Dawani, general secretary of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat. According to him, it is not easy to pursue this case as those involved are powerful and influential people. He added that the Panchayat will decide what to do now and demanded the government to protect the Hindu community.
As the news of the Hindu community’s reaction spread, Sonia petitioned a court in Ghotki seeking protection as she claimed she could be killed in the name of honour. She requested the court to restrain the police from arresting her husband, claiming that she has embraced Islam and married with her consent.
According to Dawani, “child marriage is illegal in Sindh province as in 2014, the provincial assembly passed the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act which sets the legal minimum age of marriage for girls and boys at 18 years.” If a man marries an underage girl he may be punished with imprisonment of three years. Moreover, the parents and guardians can also be punished if they fail to prevent underage marriages.
Unfortunately, a law criminalising forced conversions has been pending in the Sindh Assembly but has not been passed owing to the controversies surrounding it.
Sindh’s Hindu community has time and again raised the issue of their community’s underage girls being converted and married off to Muslim men. Some point out to the prevalent ‘watta satta’ system of marriage in rural areas whereby a brother and sister duo is married off to another sibling pair. They claim that due to this arrangement, Muslim boys who do not have sisters (or may be unwilling to use their real sisters) get community elders to convert Hindu girls as their ‘sisters’ and then use them to get married in pairs.