The rejection of the anti-forced conversion bill by a parliamentary committee on Wednesday sets the wrong precedent for a country that does struggle with blatant discrimination and violence against its minority communities. Estimated figures suggest that at least 1,000 girls from minority groups, mostly hailing from the Hindu community of Sindh, are forcibly converted to Islam every year. To tackle this menace, the Human Right Ministry had drafted a bill titled ‘Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act, 2021’ in August. However, the bill was first rejected by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and now by a parliamentary committee that believes passing it would further create “problems for minorities, leaving them more vulnerable”.
The proposed draft of the bill stipulates that any non-Muslim, who is of age, and is willing to convert to Islam will have to obtain a conversion certificate from an additional sessions judge of their area. For this, they will have to submit an application. Following its receipt, the judge will interview the individual to ensure that their will to convert wasn’t due to any duress, deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation. The law also states that if any person is found guilty of using criminal force to convert an individual, he/she would be awarded punishment between five to 10 years and a fine from Rs100,000 to Rs200,000.
In an environment where the minority communities in some cities live under constant fear, the bill was a progressive step to ease their suffering. But certain conservative segments of the society have termed it ‘anti-Islam’. Some, such as, Senator Mushtaq Ahmed from Jamaat-e-Islami denied that the problem of forced conversions existed in Pakistan. Perhaps policymakers in the country have the Ostrich Syndrome that makes them avoid any negative news. One only has to read the daily newspapers of the country to realise that forced conversions are a reality in Pakistan. Minority groups have held many protests against minor girls from their communities being abducted, forcibly converted and married to Muslim men.
Not only is it problematic that there was no inclusion of anyone from the minority community during the recently held meetings on the bill, but its rejection would only lead towards demoralizing and alienating non-Muslims in the country. The government had done right by them by putting forth the bill, it only needs to support the passage of the bill as Prime Minister Imran Khan, when in opposition, had categorically condemned forced conversion of girls.