A man suspected to have assisted in solemnising the wedding of two Pakistani Hindu minor girls, who were reportedly abducted and forcefully converted to Islam, was arrested on Sunday, as the teenagers approached a court in Pakistan’s Punjab province seeking protection, according to a media report. The two girls, Raveena (13) and Reena (15), were allegedly kidnapped by a group of “influential” men from their home in Ghotki district in Sindh on the eve of Holi. Soon after the kidnapping, a video went viral in which a cleric was purportedly shown solemnising the Nikah (marriage) of the two girls, triggering nationwide outrage.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had also ordered a probe into the issue. According to Geo TV, the teenagers approached a court in Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province seeking protection. "Police have meanwhile arrested a man from Khanpur who is suspected to have assisted in the nikah (marital contract) of the girls," it said.
However, it is not confirmed whether the arrested man is the cleric who performed their marriage. Earlier there were reports that the cleric who performed the minor girls’ marriage was arrested from Khan Pur in Sindh.
Family of Reena and Raveena who were forcefully converted to Islam registered FIR with local police for "abducting to compel to marriage". Age in FIR is 14 & 16. Under Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act every citizen under 18 falls under definition of child and cant be married pic.twitter.com/RN2RpjPATB— M. Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) March 22, 2019
War of words erupts between Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry
Earlier in the day, a war of words broke out between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry over the reported abduction, forced conversion and underage marriages of the two Hindu teenagers.
The spat started soon after Swaraj sought details from the Indian envoy in Pakistan into the reported abduction of two Hindu teenaged girls. Swaraj, while tagging a media report about the incident, tweeted that she has asked the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan to send a report on the matter.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry responded to her tweet, saying it was his country’s “internal issue”. In a Twitter post in Urdu on Sunday, Chaudhry said the prime minister has asked the Sindh chief minister to look into reports that the girls in question have been taken to Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab.
He said the prime minister has also ordered the Sindh and Punjab governments to devise a joint action plan in light of the incident, and to take concrete steps to prevent such incidents from happening again.
The Hindu community in Pakistan has carried out massive demonstrations calling for strict action to be taken against those responsible, while reminding Prime Minister Khan of his promises to the minorities of the country.
Last year, Khan during his election campaign had said his party’s agenda was to uplift the various religious groups across Pakistan and said they would take effective measures to prevent forced marriages of Hindu girls.
Pakistan Hindu Council chief and Member of National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Ramesh Kumar Vankwani condemned the incident and demanded that the bill against forced conversion, which was unanimously passed by Sindh Assembly in 2016 and then reverted due to pressure of extremist elements, must be resurrected and passed in the assembly on priority basis.
Rights activist Jibran Nasir tweeted that the sisters were converted at the Dargah Barchundi Sharif and were taken to Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab following their marriages. Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan.
According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. Majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province. According to media reports, approximately 25 forced marriages take place every month only in Umerkot district in Sindh province.