Hindu Today, Muslim Tomorrow

Source: The Atlantic

BY SABA IMTIAZ

For the first 16 years of her life, Ravita Meghwar was a Hindu girl living in a village in Pakistan. But today her name is Gulnaz Shah, and she is married, and a Muslim. Her family members believe that kidnappers drugged them and abducted their daughter, and that she was forcibly converted to Islam. She says she eloped and married of her own choice.

A decade or two ago, Meghwar’s case would have gone unreported. But in recent years, case after case involving Hindu girls converting to Islam have emerged in courts in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province, home to the majority of the country’s Hindus. The allegedly forcible nature of the conversions, the almost identical pattern of the cases, and the targeting of minor girls have deeply unsettled the Hindu population, which constitutes about 2 percent of Pakistan’s approximately 200 million people. This sense of alarm feeds into a broader reckoning: 70 years after the partition of the Indian subcontinent, some Hindus are reassessing their place in Pakistan.

While Pakistan was created as a Muslim state in 1947, the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said that religious minorities should have the freedom to live there and practice their faith. But today Pakistan’s identity is that of an Islamic nationalist state, hardline religious groups are a formidable force, and religious minorities have little voice in society. As influential Islamic shrines and religious groups work to convert people to Islam, some Hindus are leaving their villages and moving to cities in Pakistan, or leaving Pakistan altogether and moving to India.

Cases of forced conversion are mostly reported from the Sindh province, as Meghwar’s was this year. Although Pakistan became a Muslim-majority state post-partition—with Muslims dominating politics, the economy, and society—Hindus managed to retain a degree of social influence in the Sindh province, where they were known as successful merchants. According to the most recent available census, more than 6 percent of Sindh’s population is Hindu.

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