Around May this year, the Pakistani media addressed the issue of forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam. Pakistani human rights activist Marvi Sirmed highlighted the plight of a 19 year old girl, Rinkle Kumari. Comments in the Express Tribune suggest that several people are more concerned about attacking or defending Islam than they are about the welfare of a poor Hindu girl.
This emphasis on ideology over human suffering has been incisively noted by Yann Martel. In his book Life of Pi, Martel indicates that several people who get enraged by slights against God remain unmoved by the plight of widows, lepers, and children living in squalor. It is precisely this misplaced priority of authoritarian legalists that has been questioned by people exploring an expansive theology.
Progressive Muslims would refer to the covenant of the Prophet wherein he specifically admonished Muslim men from preventing Christian women from attending church after marriage. In keeping with the Prophet's warning against violating the rights of People of the Book, usually Christians and Jews, progressive Muslims would emphasize that many Indian Muslim clerics considered Hindus as part of that group.
The 13th century Persian poet Saadi broke all barriers by stating that all of humanity was but one body and that if one limb hurt, the other parts would also ache. The 18th century Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah specifically stated that both Hindus and Muslims are treated alike in God's court. Tunisian intellectual, the nonagenarian Mohamed Talbi only repeated this perpetual message when he stated that not just Muslims but all of humanity are his people.
On the other hand, literalism and ignorance has enveloped segments of the Pakistani masses and allows them to persecute vulnerable minorities. Aasiya Bibi, a poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy, continues to remain in prison where she finds relative safety from a bloodthirsty mob. If Christians are not safe despite the Prophet's admonition, the case of progressive Muslims on equating Hindus with People of the Book would only fall on deaf ears.
Marvi Sirmed, who has experienced death threats herself, highlighted how even the Chief Justice of Pakistan disposed of the petition on the forced conversions of Hindus, declaring that there was no need for special legislation for the protection of minority rights. California Congressman Brad Sherman has urged the Pakistani president to ensure the safe return of Kumari to her parents. Will the principle of protecting vulnerable minorities be lost if people frame Sherman's action as western interference?
It is a pity that people are more suspicious about the motives of human rights activists as western agents than they about the fact that the families of these Hindu girls have been unable to meet their own daughters. It is unfortunate that rather than questioning why Hindu students are being forced to take Islamic studies, a prominent religious scholar threatened to take serious steps against the "malicious activity" of Hindus.
Without much question, many have bought the news item that indicated that the conversion of Hindu women was not forced. They seem to have conveniently sidelined the oft discussed issue of intimidation by police, clerics and feudal lords in a country like Pakistan. All that matters for such people is the vindication of Islam as if their faith were a cult to be protected. However, Saadi harrowingly stated that people who had no sympathy for others were not worthy of being called human.
Naturally, people can afford to pass value judgments as it is not the lives of their own daughters and sisters that are at stake here. The situation is pressing especially for the parents of missing Hindu girls. The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi expressed that love alone came to rescue and cut arguments short. As such, would people still engage in meaningless internet drivel if their own daughters were taken away from them never to be seen again?
The Pakistan Hindu Post has an online petition requesting the support of Hilary Clinton in urging Pakistan to prevent further discrimination and victimization of the Hindu community in general, and the forced conversion to Islam of young Hindu girls in particular. However, in the absence of vested interest, will this petition be sufficient to prompt the powers that be to rescue helpless girls?
The Prophet is reported to have stated that keeping good relations with people was better than praying, fasting or charity. Pakistani Muslims in the diaspora can wield much influence through their connections and networks. In the hallowed name of the Prophet, they must help rescue these Hindu girls not because it is politically expedient to do so, but simply based on the recognition that these girls are their own daughters and sisters.