The Pakistani Supreme Court has ruled that the three Hindu girls, who claim they were forced to marry Muslim men and covert to Islam, are able to choose to live according to their wish. But is it really possible?
The court's decision has received criticism from Pakistani rights groups, which say that it would be impossible for Rinkle Kumari, Lata, and Asha Kumari to act freely. They say the girls and their families are under immense pressure from influential political clans who kidnapped them from the southern Sindh province of Pakistan in February and forced them to convert to Islam.
The girls have testified to the court that they had married the Pakistani men out of their own free will, and that nobody had pressurized them into this.
On the contrary, the leaders of the Hindu community in Pakistan say the girls were forced to change their religion.
Rights organizations in Pakistan report widespread social and cultural discrimination against minorities in the country.
Akram Masih Gil, Pakistan's minister for religious minorities, had earlier called for stronger legislation to protect Pakistani religious minorities from forced conversions. However, in the absence of strong legislation, forced conversions of Hindus and Christians go unabated.
Forced conversions not new in Islamic Republic
Family members of the girls, who were present during the Wednesday hearing, protested against the court's decision.
Mohan Das, Asha Kumari's father, told the media that he was very unhappy with the decision.
"First, they kidnapped my daughter, and then took 1.8 million rupees (roughly 15 thousand euros) in ransom. Then they demanded 3.5 million rupees," said Das, adding that discrimination against religious minorities was forcing Pakistani Hindus to flee to neighboring India, a Hindu-majority secular state.
Hindus make up 2.5 percent of the 174 million people living in Pakistan. The majority of them, over 90 percent, live in Sindh.
The Islamic factor
Mian Abdul Haq and his son Mian Aslam, who are the main people accused in the case, said they were only performing their religious duty.
"The court decision has proven that the allegations against us were baseless. The three girls had converted to Islam out of their own free will. In future, if more Hindu girls come to us to convert to Islam, we will facilitate them," said Aslam.
Amarnath Motumal, vice chairperson of the Sindh Chapter of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, and also a member of the minority Hindu community, told DW that the Pakistani Hindus "are very scared and not getting any help from anywhere."
"Kumari was forced to convert and then pressured to write a statement of consent, which is used in the court under article 164 of the Pakistani constitution as justification for her conversion. What can their parents and friends do under these circumstances?" said Motumal.
Motumal blames forced conversions on religious extremism. "These people think that by converting a Hindu girl to Islam they will earn a place in heaven," he said.
Author: Shakoor Rahim / ss
Editor: Sarah Berning