Originally published in The Friday Times in its April 13-19, 2012 issue
Malalai Yusafzai, the brilliant Pakistani girl who defied Taliban’s dictation and stood firm on getting educated and persuaded her peers to do so, is a face of Pakistan that we all want to see. More and more. With pride and denial. We like to see Malalai in denial of Rinkle. Rinkle Kumari, the 19 years old Sindhi Hindu girl who was kidnapped and allegedly forcibly converted to Islam before coercively marrying her to a Muslim Naveed Shah. The ones who show this uncomfortable face of Pakistan are condemned to be the ‘traitors’ and ‘Pakistan-haters’. If trying to correct these painful imperfections of our society is treason, let me commit it for once. Rinkle’s story needs to be told loudly and to everyone.
Rinkle was kidnapped on February 24 by Naveed Shah and four other people. Police refused to lodge an FIR and to include the names of the influential Mian Aslam, Mian Rafique and their father Mian Mithu. She was produced in the court of Civil Judge Ghotki where she insisted on going to her family but the judge illegally sent her to the police custody in Sukkur Women’s Police Station.
In sheer mockery of the President of Pakistan and his party Co-Chairperson, Mithu announced in front of many civil society activists that if Rinkle’s custody is snatched from him, he will set Mirpur Mathelo ablaze. The president had given a media statement against forced conversions earlier that day. “Come what may, justice will have to prevail” was the answer in a firm strong voice when I asked Raj Kumar, Rinkle’s uncle, if he was scared. Probably this resolve has come from years of persecution and injustice. “It has been decades that Hindu girls have been abducted and forcibly converted. We hear little or no voice at all against this oppression,” said Amar Lal, counsel to Rinkle Kumari’s family.Notwithstanding the support that media and civil society demonstrated for Rinkle, the state response remains an enigma. The Chief Justice of Supreme Court opened a long pending constitutional petition against forced conversions, filed in 2007 by Pakistan Hindu Council, and contained the names of three relatively recent cases of forced conversions including Rinkle Kumari. It was this intervention that finally infused courage in Rinkle Kumari, who spoke her heart to the CJ in camera on March 26, following which he announced in presence of national and international media that Rinkle wanted to go to her mother while Lata was double minded. He ascertained that the girls seemed to be under serious pressure, were continuously crying, were refusing to go with police. In such circumstances, honourable Chief Justice opined that before recording any free-will statement, they should be provided free atmosphere. He ordered to shift her to Panah, the shelter home run by Justice (R) Majida Razvi in Karachi. As soon as he made this announcement, Rinkle screamed in front of media that she wanted to go to her mother.
After the CJ passed orders to shift her to the shelter house, Rinkle started crying and screaming in the court, as reported by KTN TV channel, that she wanted to go to her mother. She also shrieked ear-piercingly that she will not go to the shelter house and would rather like to sleep in the court. It was heart rending to hear her say in the court that she doubted if she could get any justice in a system where majority is Muslim and wanted to make her Muslim forcibly, which is why she thought they were helping each other, not her. Prior to this hearing, every event that happened under this case screamed at the loudest, sheer weakness of the system of justice, moral bankruptcy in our institutions, our collective hypocrisy and helplessness of the highest state authorities to reign in the rogue elements of the society.
Hindu community was completely banished from attending court proceedings in Mirpur Mathelo, the other party, however, did not have any such pressure. While only four family members of Rinkle Kumari were allowed in the premises and only two in the courtroom, thousands of Mithu’s men chanted slogans outside the court and hundreds were present inside the court. An open display of weapons was a clear message to the court and judges, who could not ask any of the weapon-wielding Allah-o-Akbar chanting beards out of the court. Under these circumstances, when Rinkle was still in police custody, god knows how she managed to organize a press conference among, of course, Mian Mithu’s men and with a Bluetooth mobile device stuck in her right ear. West is bad for conspiring against Islam, but Western technology is apparently good for Islam’s spread!
When she was being dictated via blue tooth, Rinkle tried hard to satisfy questioning journalists and forgot what inspired her to embrace Islam. ‘Sura Eeklus’, she tried to pronounce Sura Ikhlaas twice, unsuccessfully though. When asked about the meaning or gist of the contents of Sura Ikhlas, she was dumbstuck and was forcibly taken out by Mithu’s son. Yes, you read it right. While in Police custody, she was under complete control of Mithu’s men. Media also learned in this press conference that Rinkle actually does not even know Naveed Shah, who she was married to hours after abduction. At 5am she was abducted from her home on February 24, at 3pm the same day she was married. Honourable Court might ask Mithu what made him make this important decision of the life of an independent woman, even if she had embraced Islam, in such a hurry?
One is flabbergasted to see so many of us not asking some basic but direct questions. Who is Mian Mithu? What is his interest for pursuing this case? He is neither Sajjada Nasheen of Bharchundi Shareef, as had been wrongly reported by some section of media initially, nor he is remotely related to Naveed Shah, with whom Rinkle allegedly eloped and embraced Islam. The Sajjada Nasheen (caretaker) of the Bharchundi Shareef dargah, Mian Abdul Khaliq, who happens to be Mian Mithu’s nephew has categorically condemned what Mithu has done under the garb of Islam. Not only him, Sajjada Nasheens of many other Dargahs (shrines) have joined in condemning Mithu’s actions, including Dargah Shah Latif, Dargah Jhok Sharif, Dargah Sachal Sayeen and Jot Jalan (the man who lights the candle / diya at the shrine) of Dargah Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Even the Council of Islamic Ideology’s Maulana Shirani has categorically said that forcible conversion is no conversion, is rather a sin.
On April 10, Mian Mithu along with many of his supporters, held a seminar in an expensive hotel in Islamabad. In the seminar, Mithu is reported to have threatened the Supreme Court that if it gives judgment against him, he will not follow the apex court, but will follow the shariah – his own version thereof. When reminded about the President, who is head of the party Mithu belongs to, Mithu was reported to be quick to disdainfully say, “I will see the president. No one dares challenge me”. After threats from Mithu and firing by his men on Manohar Lal, Rinkle’s grandfather, the whole family had to leave Mirpur Mathelo and shift to Karachi. Three top men from Hindu community of District Ghotki are pointedly under Mithu’s threat, renowned human rights activist Mr Amar Lal, saint Sadh Ram, Rinkle’s uncle Mr Raj Kumar. No one seems to have any control on the power of this unrestrained self proclaimed clergyman.
The important question that the Superior Court has is, what will Rinkle’s family, Hindu community of District Ghotki and especially these three respectable men would do if Rinkle is allowed to join her family after the upcoming hearing on 18th March? Who will provide security to them? Is the rotten and visibly tilted structure of state institutions to be trusted by the down trodden? Is the Superior Court empowered enough to provide justice and security to Hindu community of Ghotki? If not, who will? This case poses biggest challenge to the Superior Court in its entire history. The Hindu community, in this case, represents the most down trodden sections of the society, which came out on streets in 2007 in the hope of an independent justice system. This justice system includes law enforcing agencies and lower courts. Even if Rinkle goes back to her family, an independent judicial enquiry on the role of Ghotki Police and Civil Judges should be instituted and criminal record of Mian Mithu and his sons should be produced in the court. The question arises why in last six months, kidnapping of Hindu girls, forced conversions and abduction of Hindu and Christian youngsters and saints is increased? “They want us to leave the country. They are forcing us to flee from our motherland. But we will not deter,” said Amar Lal, Rinkle’s counsel.
It is sheer mockery of judiciary when the powerful uses its system to oppress the powerless, that too, with impunity. Mithu mocked not only the law but the honourable court as well, when he sent his armed men to the court premises. He ridiculed police and all law-enforcing mechanism when he fetched Rinkle in his private car and arranged her press conference when she was in police custody. He belittled the parliament when being a part of it he violated law of land. He scorned the head of the state when he said he “will see the President”. Will any of these pillars of the state respond with iron will?