Pakistan: Under the shadow of abduction and forced conversions

26-11-2014

On the morning of October 30th, a 12-year old girl was abducted from her home in Dehrki City of the Ghotki district (in Sindh Province). Her sister and mother were beaten and threatened with handguns preventing any resistance. The child, Anjali Meghwar, had little choice but to leave with the 5 abductors, while her father was at work and unable to protect her. It was only upon her father’s arrival that the family could register a First Investigation Report (FIR) with the police. Although all 5 abductors were known to the family members only one of them was arrested. Riza Siyal who forcefully converted and married Anjali the day after abduction was arrested on November 22nd.

The case served as a platform for the numerous Hindu communities in Sindh province to unite in protest of the atrocities happening to their daughters and sisters on an everyday basis. Many of the other ethnic and religious groups, including Muslim citizens, joined in the protests, which lasted for several weeks.

During Anjali’s first appearance before the judge on November 21st, Anjali’s status as  a minor was recognized and an order was issued freeing her from her abductor and allowing her to return home with her family. However, due to highly intensified religious tensions in the community, the girl was sent to a shelter home until the first court hearing on November 24th. During the hearing, regardless of Anjali’s obvious emotional distress, her appeal to the judge to be allowed to return to her family was not granted. Anjali’s parents were officially granted permission by the judge to visit Anjali at the shelter home. However, despite official permission, they were denied  access to the shelter home by staff members.

Upon learning of the denial of access (during the 2nd hearing, on the 1st of December), the judge  arranged a family meeting for Anjali so she could see her  parents in private. Reportedly, during the meeting, Anjali told her parents about the heavy psychological abuse she was experiencing at the shelter home. She spoke of being put under extreme pressure to accept her forced religious conversion. Anjali was forced to perform religious rituals and acts against her will. Anjali has expressed extreme distress and fears for her safety and that of her family.

No further decision was made during the 2nd hearing on December 1st, forcing Anjali to stay in the shelter home. Though perpetrators are often freed by a 2nd hearing without a decision, Riza Siyal is still in jail. No charges have been made against the other 4 men.

Due to numerous threats, the Meghwar family were forced to leave their home and move to an undisclosed location. With their lives in danger and no hope of returning home, the family is determined to fight for their daughter and reunite the family again.

This is just one of many cases that demonstrate the atrocities and lack of access to justice faced by minority groups in Pakistan. Anjali Meghwar represents the most vulnerable group in Pakistani society, as she is belongs to one of the most marginalized Hindu groups in Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistani women are treated as second class citizens, leaving women from minority groups such as Anjali an easy target for the various religiously motivated human rights violations. There are legal mechanisms in place to protect underage girls like Anjali, but the reality of the minority rights situation often creates obstacles for their utilization. Anjali’s mother and sister were prevented from reporting her abduction to the police, as they would not have been taken seriously by the police as minority women.

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