In a setback for Hindu and other minority religious communities in Pakistan, the Sindh Governor on Saturday sent back to the provincial Assembly for reconsideration a recently-passed Minorities Bill which criminalises forced conversions in the Muslim-majority country. The ailing Goveror, Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, sent back Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill without ratifying it.
“Please reconsider the legislation,” Siddiqui wrote to the Sindh Assembly Secretariat while returning the bill. The Governor, in his observations, said the Assembly needs to take note of the letters written by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), MQM parliamentary leader Sardar Ahmed, as well as the protest by religious parties, which either called for the bill’s withdrawal or proposed amendments to it. Sindh Assembly Secretary GM Umer Farooq confirmed they had received the bill with the Governor’s message.
“The Governor’s plea for reconsideration means he has asked for the bill’s withdrawal and for the introduction of a new law,” he said. Siddiqui who took oath as the Governor of Sindh on November 11 last year replacing Ishrat ul Ebad has been ailing since then and is under treatment and care at his official residence. The Pakistan Hindu Council had earlier expressed concern that if the bill to protect minorities was amended or abrogated under pressure from extremist religious parties it will increase the sense of insecurity among non-Muslims.
Minority Hindu lawmaker and the patron-in-chief of the council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, had cautioned that Pakistan might face isolation on international level if the bill was abrogated as the legislation had addressed growing complaints against increasing incidents of abduction and forced conversion of underage minor Hindu girls. Vankwani had said that they were not against the conversion of religion as a result of deep study or preaching but their concerns were linked to forced conversions only.
“Why only underage Hindu girls in Sindh are changing religion,” Vankwani, an MNA of the ruling PML N party, said. The private bill, jointly moved by the ruling PPP and the PML-F lawmakers and unanimously passed by the Assembly on November 24, recommended that change of religion not be recognised until a person becomes 18 years old. It also prescribed severe penalties for forced conversion of religion and said, “Any person who forcibly converts another person shall be liable to imprisonment for a minimum of five years and maximum of life imprisonment and a fine to be paid to the victim.”
Religious parties have rallied against the proposed legislation, calling it against the spirit of Islam and threatening street agitation over it.