Pakistani authorities have announced they will issue computerized national identity cards to all members of the country’s Hindu minority, including married women who faced obstacles in obtaining such cards.
As Hindu marriages are usually not registered under Pakistani laws, many Hindus are unable to provide proof of their marriages, making it impossible to acquire passports and other important documents.
According to reports, Hindus number some 3 million in Pakistan, representing less than 5 percent of the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 180 million. (In 1947, when India and Pakistan were separated by Partition, Hindus accounted for at least 15 percent of the population of the present-day Pakistan).
Hindus, along with other minorities, including Sikhs, Christians and others, have long complained of discrimination in Pakistan. For Hindus, who are associated with Pakistan’s number one enemy, India, discrimination may be even worse than for other groups.
Reports are now circulating that Hindu girls in Pakistan are being kidnapped and forced into marrying Muslim men.
The Los Angeles Times cited the case of a 16-year-old girl named Rachna Kumari who was abducted in a crowded bazaar by a police officer who later demanded that she convert to Islam and marry him.
Human rights activists in Pakistan say such cases have spiked recently, mostly in the northern part of Sindh province -- which borders India -- to as many as 25 kidnappings a month. In most cases, the girl and her family have no choice but to submit to the extortion with few legal recourses available.
In court, usually it's just four or five members of the girl's family against hundreds of armed people for the boy, Dr. B.H. Khurana, a Hindu community leader in Pakistan, said.
In such a situation when we are unarmed and outnumbered, how can we fight our case in court?
Some senior officials have now taken up the cause of the Hindus. Azra Fazal Pechuho, a politician of the ruling Pakistan Peoples’ Party and a sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, recently brought the matter of the abduction and forced conversion of Hindu girls to parliament in Islamabad. She and some other lawmakers have called for new laws to ban such practices.
At least three cases of forced marriage and conversion of Hindus were taken all the way to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The court allowed the girls the choice of staying with their Muslim husbands or returning to their Hindu families. All three chose to stay with the husband.
When someone gets kidnapped, Hindus lodge kidnapping charges, but authorities don't respond, said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Pakistan Hindu Council. After 20 days, the kidnapper and his people pressure the girl and say, 'If you don't accept Islam and give wrong answers in court, you know what will happen.' That's coercion.
The issue has even reached ears in the United States.
Last month, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., wrote a letter to Zardari in which he cited the case of Rinkel Kumari, a Hindu girl forced to convert to Islam and marry. Kumari was reportedly pressured and coerced into accepting her fate.
“Rinkel Kumari's case is just one case of abduction and forced religious conversion in Pakistan,'' Sherman wrote. ''I urge you to take all necessary steps to bring an end to this practice and other harassment of Hindus in Pakistan.''
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.