The Plight Of Being A Minority Woman In Pakistan

Sameera Ehteram
A 24-year-old Christian woman was kidnapped in Pakistan last year. Her family believes she has been forced to marry her Muslim captor.

Pakistani college student Maryam Mushtaq was abducted as she was walking with her younger brother on her way home from college in Lahore in May last year.

Her family reported the crime, giving not only the abductor's vehicle description but license plate number as well. They were told by the police that their daughter was not being held against her will. Two days later, they received a phone call from the local police, who told her that her daughter was not kidnapped but married to a man named Muhammed Ali.

Ali, 32, submitted the marriage certificate at the police station to prove his innocence.

The family insists to this day that their daughter would never voluntarily marry a Muslim and is being held against her will. 

The British Pakistani Christian Association, which has been helping the family, says that local police are bringing  Mushtaq and Ali to court for a hearing this week. However, chances are that she may be forced to tell the court that she is in a lawful marriage of her own free will. 

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“Yet again an innocent Christian girl has been kidnapped and forced into Islamic marriage,” said Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA.“We do not know the depravity or the brutality she has had to face but her entrapment will have a sordid edge to it no doubt.”

Chowdhry is right and the feeling of frustration across the minority communities, especially Christians and Hindus, is common.

Hindu Girls

"The abduction and kidnapping of Hindu girls is becoming more and more common," explained Amarnath Motumal, a lawyer and leader of Karachi’s Hindu community. “This trend has been growing over the past four or five years, and it is getting worse day by day.”

“Hindus are non-believers. They believe in many gods, not one, and are heretics. So they should be converted,” believes Abdul Mannan, a 20-year-old Muslim student. He added that he would be willing to marry a Hindu girl, if asked to by his teachers, “Because conversions brought big rewards from Allah [God]. But later I will marry a 'real' Muslim girl as my second wife.” 

Harya, a young Hindu girl living in a village in the Umerkot district of Pakistan’s Sindh province, disappeared after going to fetch water from the village well.

A few hours later, her family tracked footsteps from the well to an influential household in the village, but was told she was not there. They called the police to little avail.

A couple of weeks later, she was presented in a local civil court and was declared a Muslim and the wife of the man who had abducted her.

Her family refused to give up and filed for her release. A higher court finally ruled in their favor.

Harya claimed she was drugged when presented in court.

“A female police officer gave me some kind of an injection.  Both the judge and the police were bribed,” she said. “They told me I was married. They also told me I was now a Muslim.”

Hindu Girls

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Similar fates befell Tahira, 21, and Reema Bibi, 20, two Christian women who were abducted in December 2015 from near their home in Sargodha, Punjab, as they returned together from work.

Two Muslim men took the two young women, raped them and then forcibly married them. Tahira managed to escape, but her Muslim "husband" filed a complaint with police, who immediately arrested six members of her family. The relatives were released thanks to pressure from human rights groups, but the authorities ordered the family to return Tahira to her captor.

Forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: females between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate.

Even if a case goes to court, the victims are threatened and pressured by their “husbands” and their families to declare their conversion voluntary.

In November 2015, the Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology strongly opposed a law on “forced conversion,” sparking dismay and protests among Pakistani Hindus and Christians.

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