September 25th, 2021 

By Rehan Piracha 


LAHORE

The objections of the religious affairs ministry to a draft bill on forced conversion will be taken by the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversion in its forthcoming meeting on October 13, members of the parliamentary panel told Voicepk.net

On Thursday, Federal Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noor ul Qadri has said his ministry has raised objections to conditions of 18 years, appearance before a judge and 90-day waiting period for persons converting to another religion listed in the draft bill, prepared by the Human Rights Ministry, to stem forced conversion in the country after a month-long review.

“The Religious Affairs Ministry has returned the draft bill with objections to the Human Rights Ministry,” Qadri said. The Human Rights Ministry had drafted the bill on forced conversions in light of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversion. The religious affairs ministry was to review the draft bill and present its recommendations to the parliamentary committee which is scheduled to meet on October 13.

Asked for a response to the rejection of the draft bill by the religious affairs ministry, parliamentary committee members Lal Chand, Keshoo Mal, and Sikandar Mandhro said the objections of the religious affairs ministry would be taken up in the meeting next month.

No surprise here: Vankwani

Another committee member Ramesh Kumar Vankwani said the objections came as no surprise for him as there was no point in the bill being sent to the religious affairs ministry which had already apprised the parliamentary committee of its viewpoint in meetings. “The CII and Religious Affairs Ministry had given their input and the committee had finalised the bill by sending it to the Human Rights Ministry,” he told Voicepk.net.

Vankwani said no representative from minorities was called to the religious affairs ministry’s review committee to present the viewpoints of minorities over the proposed bill,” he added.

“Unfortunately, no Non-Muslim representative was invited to present our viewpoint. Its bad luck that important decisions related to patriotic minorities are in the hands of the majority,” Vankwani, also head of Pakistan Hindu Council, said.

Bill on forced conversion will go ahead: Lal Chand

Lal Chand, member of National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaaf, said forced conversion was an issue in the country. He said the religious affairs ministry announced the objections over the bill after a meeting with Mian Mithoo, who he said, was quite active in forced marriage and conversions of minor Hindu girls in Sindh. “PTI Chairperson Imran Khan had expelled Mian Mithoo from the party after knowing of his involvement in forced conversion,” Chand told Voicepk.net.

“The pictures of Mian Mithoo in a meeting with Qadri were deliberately publicized to depict that he was part of the ministry’s review committee,” Lal added.

Chand, who is also the parliamentary secretary for human rights, said minority lawmakers have been very vocal inside parliament against forced conversions, promising that legislation will be enacted to stem the practice.  “The bill on forced conversion in whatever form will be enacted,” Chand said, adding that committee members would certainly review objections put forth by the religious affairs ministry.

Deadlock should be resolved amicably: Keshoo Mal

Keshoo Mal, member of National Assembly from Pakistan Muslim League, feared that the government was confused over legislation on forced conversion, hinting that the draft bill might suffer the same fate as the shelving off construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. “The government had first approved construction of Hindu temple in Islamabad but later buckled to pressure from certain religious quarters,” Mal told Voicepk.net.

Mal said the parliamentary committee was constituted \in view of incidents of forced conversions in the country following concerns expressed by the government and the opposition in the parliament.

The draft bill was drafted after recommendations from the sub-committee on the procedure of conversion. However, he favoured that the deadlock following the objections should be resolved amicably. “It’s a sensitive issue and we would try to resolve it amicably in the parliamentary committee,” he told Voicepk.net.

Senator Dr Sikandar Mandhro from the Pakistan Peoples Party said the parliamentary committee would review objections from the religious affairs ministry in the meeting next month, adding that the bill was based on the recommendations put forth by the committee, declining to comment further. Senator Mandhro.

Mandhro, head of a sub-committee, had recommended that any adult of 18 years would apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the area. The judge may grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.

In July, the parliamentary committee had asked the religious affairs ministry to review the draft bill and present its recommendations to the committee. The religious affairs ministry had forwarded the draft bill to the Council of Islamic Ideology. In an interim report, the CII had said the proposed bill was in conflict with Islamic Sharia. The council had also objected to two previous proposed bills on forced conversion.

There is no official data on forced or voluntary conversion in Pakistan. Human rights organisations and civil society organizations have repeatedly pointed out questionable conversions of Hindu and Christian girls in the country.

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