This was originally written for The Friday Times appeared on May 25, 2012. Click here to read it from TFT. Posted here with some modifications
“Supreme Court has once again killed the justice as it had done earlier under Molvi Mushtaq when it sentenced Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to death” said a strongly worded statement from Raj Kumar, uncle of Rinkle Kumari, the Hindu girl allegedly forcibly converted to Islam and married to a Muslim boy Naveed Shah. The anger and disillusionment on Supreme Court’s Order of April 18th was not limited to Rinkle’s family only. It seems to have spread over the entire Sindh. Those familiar with the details of the case saw it as a mockery of ‘justice’, while the general consumer of mainstream media was satisfied on dispensation of ‘justice’ by letting an ‘adult’ girl exercise her right to ‘free’ choice.
The case was, no doubt, a complex one, where even the liberal sections of society were perplexed to form an opinion on the case. For a layperson Rinkle Kumari had claimed in a presser to have embraced Islam on her own free will before marrying Naveed Shah. Later, she was reported (widely so) to have stated in the Supreme Court that she wanted to go with her ‘husband’ instead of her parents. Anyone would support such a display of ‘free exercise’ of the right to choose by a young girl from minority community. Anyone still raising voice for Rinkle’s recovery would be seen as anti-women rights conservative. Needless to say that the right wing religious people would term the protesters the enemies of religion who are posing hurdles in the spread of Islam. The hyper nationalists would call them anti-state traitors who want to blemish Pakistan’s image by highlighting a persecution that in their view, never existed.
The discrepancies started appearing as soon as the case began with Rinkle’s alleged abduction. We might not know at this point whether Rinkle and Naveed Shah had relationship, but that Rinkle knew Naveed as neighbor is a fact. It is also a fact that she had been complaining about Naveed’s excesses towards her for couple of months before the so-called abduction. The accounts about the day she disappeared, February 24, are many. Even the initial First Information Report (FIR) lodged by her family tells a different story than their statements later. Same is the case with the accounts by Mian Mitho, the central character of the tragedy. Whenever Mitho opens his mouth about the case, he comes up with a different story about what happened on February 24.
For the sake of keeping it simple and preventing it from unnecessarily drifting, lets assume Rinkle and Naveed Shah had a relationship and eloped out of consent on February 24. Had that been the case, the girl would never had cried endlessly in the civil court Ghotki on February 25 and had said that she wanted to go with her parents. Media should probably have asked the civil court why was she sent to Sakhar police station on February 25 after her clear statement to the opposite. That was the point that emboldened those having a sinister hand in the case. After the court gave up its authority over the process of justice by allowing Mian Mitho take Rinkle from Ghotki to Sakhar police station while she was given in police custody, the court gave a silent message to all of us as to who was in-charge. The same was repeated on February 27 in the court of judicial magistrate Mirpur Mathelo, when he ordered to give Rinkle’s custody to Naveed Shah.
The timeline of injustice in this particular case presents many discrepancies and clearly points towards collusion between the entire state structure, landed influential politicians, religious elite and ‘innocent’ media who swindled the process of justice. Despite Rinkle’s repeated statements in different courts that she wanted to go to her parents, courts could not ‘respect’ her choice. Not many would blame the poor magistrates considering the conditions in which they try to give a semblance of justice. In the absence of any security mechanism ensured for them, it was understandable when judicial magistrate in Mirpur Mathelo told counsels of Rinkle’s family that had he given a decision otherwise, he and thousands of Hindus in Ghotki district would have been killed by religious extremists. The instance has been recorded in the note submitted to honorable Supreme Court by the counsel Rasheed A. Rizvi.
The farce of ‘free will’ should have been gotten exposed on March 11 when Rinkle was made to address a press conference while, theoretically, in the custody of police. The way she was surrounded by Mitho’s armed men who dragged them in and out of the venue and then how the media portrayed it as her free will statement, was a shameless display of our collective failure on basic levels of honesty, intellect, sense of judgment and reasoning.
On March 12, when Rinkle was produced in the High Court Karachi, she was once again dragged in the courtroom by Mitho’s men and women with policewomen silently watching on the side. Veengas, the journalist from Karachi who has been closely following the case, tells that Mitho’s men appeared to be in-charge of the courtroom. “They were everywhere and were not letting anyone come towards Rinkle” says Veengas. The court had to rise twice in order to make order in the courtroom, as has been recorded in the High Court Order of March 12.
Leaving aside what happened next, come fast forward to March 26 and we see Rinkle once again pleading helplessly to the Chief Justice that she wanted to go with her mother. To quote Chief Justice, as was reported by various TV channels and newspapers and was never denied by the honourable court, “Rinkle wants to go with her parents while Dr. Lata is double minded”. Despite this clear statement from Rinkle, she was sent to Panah, the shelter home run by Justice Majida Razvi, former judge Sindh High Court and Chair NCSW. The order was issued to ‘give the girls pressure-free environment for recording free-will statement’ under section 164 of Criminal Procedures Code.
According to the SC’s orders, all the parties to the conflict were barred from meeting her. But to one’s utter shock, reports have emerged that she was not spared even in Panah. Although Justice Majida Razvi categorically denies any such event, but Rinkle’s family insists Panah’s lower level staff was intimidated and threatened by Mitho’s men to let Naveed Shah meet her. Justice Razvi, in her written response to this scribe, has strongly denied this and has offered to produced CCTV camera footage if the accusers tell the date and time of the suspected meeting. The court could probably get the evidence from Panah and burry the disturbing rumors forever.
After, this ‘pressure free period’, Rinkle was produced in Supreme Court on April 18 where she was not allowed to talk before the Order was dictated, despite her murmuring to let her say something. On refusal to be heard by the court, she gave the Chief Justice a piece of paper, which was not read. She was then directed to the Registrar’s office for stating her willingness to accompany either of the parties.
It is unknown how the court determined whether she was ‘sui juris’ (capacity to manage one’s own affairs) when her birth certificate shows her to be less than 18 years of age (16 years 5 months to be precise). Moreover, no procedure was adopted to determine if she had embraced Islam without coercion. There was no cross-questioning allowed to either of the counsels who were not allowed to speak. According to another unconfirmed report, Mitho’s son, Naveed Shah and handful of policemen were already in Registrar’s office where Rinkle recorded her statement. Moments later, media was reporting that Rinkle has opted to go with her ‘husband’.
Interesting to note here that Rinkle’s statement does not say whether she has embraced Islam. Question arises, if she, as Hindu, has married Naveed Shah, would the court and the religious parties ever allow a Muslim girl to marry a Hindu boy? If 16 years old Rinkle’s ‘right to choice’ is so important for all of us, would we allowe adult Muslim girls to marry out of their choice without their parents? We must.
Yousaf Leghari, former Advocate General Sindh is of the opinion that the way case was handled and the Order was written was violation of the procedure laid down for statements under section 164. According to CrPC, the statement had to be recorded under oath in the presence of judge(s). Nothing was done to determine the proverbial ‘free will’ of the abductee, he said. Mr. Amarnath Mottumal, Vice-Chairperson Sindh Chapter of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan emphasized that the court had to make sure if the conversion was forced. To which end, nothing was done.
The way the petition of Pakistan Hindu Council was disposed off by the apex court is also noteworthy. It diluted the issue of necessary legislation to prevent forced conversions when the Court opined that no legislation was required thereon in the presence of Article 20 of the Constitution. Asad Jamal, Advocate Lahore High Court and noted human rights activist says that the Court Order does not and cannot bar the parliament from legislating on an issue it deems necessary to legislate upon. However, legislation on this issue must be done with care and due diligence, as it might be used against the minorities. Precedence of similar legislation could be taken from Indian statutes, Jamal said.
In this judicial hustle bustle, everyone forgot Presidential order of instituting an inquiry on the issue. Probably it is high time that the Honorable court orders the relevant departments to carry on with the inquiry into the role of Ghotki police, of lower judiciary and of Mian Mitho while taking into account his criminal record. The concept of ‘free will’ should not be abused by making it so illusionary, yet decisive.
As these lines are being written, the rumor has it that Mian Mitho has made arrangements for Rinkle to leave the country on May 28. We must amend last point in the timeline of Rinkle’s case and be able to write, Rinkle finally got justice!