Of the 180 million population in Pakistan, little more than one percent are Hindus. But increasingly they are said to be fearing for their religious identity — and lives — as more and more coerced conversions have been reported.

The Independent Human Rights Commission in Pakistan (HRCP) claims that the kidnappings of Hindu girls for forced conversions into Islam is increasing week by week.

Amarnath Motumel, a senior lawyer with the HCRP who has represented numerous Hindu families on these conversion cases, says that figures on these kidnappings run to 20 to 25 Hindu girls a month; and, what’s more, after surfacing from captivity, these Hindu girls are found to have embraced Islam.

Many factors surface as explanations for these assaults on the Hindu community.

Amar Guriro, a Hindu journalist, gives a relatively benign reason for these conversions – one based on economics. Although he acknowledges some true cases of coerced conversion, Guriro says many of them are driven by the exorbitant amount of dowry required to marry. At an average dowry price of 22 million Rupees ($22,065) a Hindu woman has three choices: (1) to remain unmarried, (2) to elope once they find a suitable partner and escape from the Hindu marital tariff or (3) to convert to Islam.

On the contrary, Motumel explains these instant conversion acts as Islam extremist propaganda. When before Allah promised paradise to the suicide bombers, he now promises them to Muslims who convert non-Muslims into the faith – goes the extremist pitch.

But for his part, high cleric Mufti Muhammad Naeem stands by the innocence of the conversions. The new converts are simply reflections of the enormous effect of being surrounded by a deeply Islamic Pakistan culture. So conversions are — in his word — ‘natural’.

Maybe so. But when Hindu women are brought to court, the first thing they are asked by the judge is to recite the kalma, an Islam proclamation stating you are of the faith. Motumel says after these words are uttered, “…no Hindu family can take her back.” A woman previously named Rinkle Kumari, awaiting decision whether she will be granted back Hindu status, faces a permanent name change to Faryal Shah, giving a whole new meaning to Shakespeare’s famous line, “What’s in a name?”

Sadly there are no roses in this ending.

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Inter Press Service