Islamabad, Pakistan – A Hindu teenage girl was killed last week in Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh after resisting an abduction for alleged forced marriage and conversion, sparking fear among the country’s minority community.
The family of 18-year-old Pooja Kumari described her as a lively girl, often seen sewing traditional clothes at their home in Rohri town, Sukkur district, about 470 km (292 km). miles) north of the port city of Karachi, the provincial capital.
Kumari’s uncle Odh, whose first name Al Jazeera is not used for security reasons, said she was often harassed by Wahid Bux Lashari, a member of the powerful Lashari tribe. Lashari, 24, had threatened Kumari with forced marriage earlier this month.
His family said they approached local police who “showed no interest” in helping the family against the powerful landowner tribe.
A week later, on March 21, Lashari again showed up with two associates and broke into the girl’s house. When Kumari resisted the abduction, Lashari allegedly fired his gun.
“They shot her on the spot,” Odh told Al Jazeera. “She [Kumari] chose resistance and death over marrying the kidnapper because of her faith.
Police arrested Lashari and the two associates on the night of March 21 after the incident sparked outrage on Pakistani social media.
“Mr. Lashari and two other people have been arrested for their involvement in the murder,” local police chief Bashir Ahmed told Al Jazeera. “The main suspect even confessed to the crime.”
Rights groups say Kumari is among an estimated 1,000 minority girls who are forcibly married or converted to Islam – or both – each year in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
“Forced conversions are against the teachings of Islam and we are committed to ensuring justice and a peaceful environment for minorities. We will take serious action against the culprits and ensure the protection of the family of [the] girl victim,” Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan for Religious Harmony and Middle East Affairs, told Al Jazeera.
According to the 2017 census, Muslims make up 97% of Pakistan’s population while Hindus make up around 2%, with an overwhelming majority of them – nearly 90% – residing in Sindh province, bordering India. Neighboring India with a Hindu majority.
Last year, the United States placed Pakistan on a list of “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.
Campaigners say some victims of forced marriage or conversion are as young as 12.
In 2019, Khan’s government ordered an investigation into forced conversions after two Hindu sisters were allegedly kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam – a case that sparked controversy with India.
A Pakistani court later ruled that the two sisters converted voluntarily.
Activists say the lack of legislation to protect minority rights has made it difficult for Hindu and Christian girls.
In October last year, a parliamentary committee rejected an anti-forced conversion bill after the Ministry of Religious Affairs opposed the bill despite protests from lawmakers from minority communities.
In 2016, Sindh province passed a law declaring forced conversion an offense punishable by life imprisonment, but the region’s governor refused to ratify the legislation.
Meanwhile, minority groups in Pakistan are protesting the forced marriage or conversion of girls from their communities.
“Forced conversion is a very serious issue and is becoming a chronic problem for the country, but unfortunately, so far not all major political parties have managed to legislate on this important issue,” said Kapil Dev, a Hindu rights activist at Al Jazeera. .
“She [Kumari] would have been another victim of forced conversion, if she had not resisted her abduction.
Dev said the government should ‘give serious thought to this issue’ and introduce a bill to end the ‘heinous act as soon as possible, as these incidents not only bring a bad name to the country but also to the faith. of the majority”.
Dev pointed to the “lack of interest from political parties” which he says gives in to right-wing groups when a bill to end the practice is introduced in a state or national assembly.
Legal experts also say there is no existing law to stop forced conversions in Pakistan.
“Despite the upsurge in forced conversions, the federal and provincial governments have failed to show the appropriate will to address this serious constitutional violation. The government, despite having a parliamentary majority in the National Assembly, did not present this bill to parliament,” lawyer Osama Malik told Al Jazeera.
“Similarly, the provincial government of Sindh has twice refused to legislate on this issue.”