Gill seeks strong law against forced conversions

Islamabad: The Pakistani minister responsible for the welfare of religious minorities has called for stronger legislation to protect them from forced conversions, alleging that 100 non-Muslim women, mostly Hindus, were forced to convert to Islam in recent months.

Minister for National Harmony Akram Masih Gill, himself a Christian, said such practices by Muslims went against the injunctions of Islam as the religion`s laws prohibited forced conversion. "We will seek a religious decree from the Council of Islamic Ideology and a ruling by the Federal Shariah Court on the issue before introducing the required law," Gill told The Express Tribune newspaper.

The draft of the proposed law is likely to be tabled in Parliament after the passage of the budget in June. Gill said he was unsure about the exact number of forced conversions in the absence of accurate data, but believed that the "figure of such cases is about 100". Parliamentarians from minority communities have recommended that the federal government introduce legislation to check forced conversions, he said.

The minister`s remarks came against the backdrop of an order issued by the Supreme Court, directing authorities in southern Sindh province to produce three Hindu women, who were allegedly forcibly converted, in court on March 26.

Two of the women – Rinkle Kumari and Lata Kumari – have claimed in lower courts that they voluntarily converted to Islam and married Muslim men.

Referring to the proposed legislation, Gill recommended the formation of official bodies to authenticate whether or not anyone had voluntarily converted to Islam or any other religion and not under coercion. "Learning the basic principles and teachings of Islam should be made obligatory under the proposed laws for all those non-Muslims who decided to embrace Islam," he said.

The minister cited "sexual lust" as the key reason behind Muslim men forcing non-Muslim girls to convert. However, the Tribune quoted a source in the Ministry of National Harmony as saying that the Law Ministry was of the view that there is no need for legislation to check forced conversions of non-Muslims.

The law ministry`s view was discussed after the National Commission for Minorities recommended that the federal government introduce laws against forced conversions.

At a recent meeting, the Commission, which is headed by Gill, asked the government to enact the law to protect minorities from forced conversions. The source said the Law Ministry had opposed the proposed legislation in 2010 when the then federal Ministry for Minorities referred a draft to it. The Law Ministry had then maintained that provisions already existed in the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to prevent forced conversions.