Forced conversions torment Pakistan’s Hindus

published on August 20, 2014

About two months ago, a Muslim businessman approached Dharmo Sochi and put a gun to his head, demanding his Hindu daughter’s hand in marriage.

The businessman, Jameel Solangi, allegedly threatened the family with abduction and murder unless they acquiesced.

Sochi’s 16-year-old daughter, Madhuri, had previously been harassed by Solangi but was too traumatised to tell the family about it, according to her aunt, Sri Devi.

 “Dharmo dared him to shoot,” Sri Devi told Al Jazeera. “He thought it better to die than allow this unholy union between Hindu and Muslim. Somehow we pushed Solangi out of the house and no one was hurt.”

From that day onwards, Madhuri – who works as a panhandler, the traditional profession for women from her Sochi caste – was too fearful to leave the house.

Pakistan is home to about two million Hindus, most of whom live in the southern province of Sindh and belong to lower castes, including Sochi. While upper-caste Hindus complain of their traders being kidnapped for ransom, lower-caste Hindus say their daughters are being targeted.

“Our community can bear looting and the kidnapping of our men, but the abduction of our daughters and wives is too painful,” Bhawan Das, who holds a National Assembly seat reserved for minorities, told Al Jazeera.

“Unfortunately, the frequency of these crimes is increasing due to religious extremism.”

According to a report from the Movement for Solidarity and Peace, about 1,000 non-Muslim girls are converted to Islam each year in Pakistan. Every month, an estimated 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted and converted, although exact figures are impossible to gather, said Amarnath Motumal, the vice chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

In Madhuri’s case, Solangi claims to love the young woman and does not understand why she refused to marry him.

“Right now she goes from house to shop begging for charity,” he told Al Jazeera. “I can provide her with so much more.”

Asked why he threatened to shoot Madhuri’s father, he said: “What else am I supposed to do? I can’t give up on her.”

While religion appears to be a secondary issue for Solangi, it is a chief concern for Madhuri, who would have to convert if she married a Muslim.

“I’m terrified he will kidnap me, force me to accept Islam and marry him,” she told Al Jazeera. “He is not Hindu. I will die before I marry him.”

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