Washington [US], August 5 (ANI): An American Hindu advocacy group has hosted a Capitol Hill Speaker Series for US members of Congress and congressional staff to highlight the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan by state and non-state actors.
This was the second such briefing of the year by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).
Entitled "Pakistan's 'Conversion Factories' & Discrimination of Religious Minorities", the briefing featured HAF Director of Human Rights Deepali Kulkarni and World Sindhi Congress USA-Director Dr Saghir Shaikh, who provided compelling testimony on the life-threatening challenges that Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmaddiyas and other religious minorities face in Pakistan's Sindh province, according to a statement by HAF on Wednesday.
The briefing began with opening remarks and introduction of the panelists by HAF Director of Public Policy Taniel Koushakjian, who moderated the panel discussion following the presentations.
He elaborated how the religious minorities are facing a dangerous environment, and the atmosphere of impunity in which state and non-state actors work together to manipulate, forcefully convert, and human trafficking of young girls into sexual slavery simply because of their faith.
"All religious minority groups in Pakistan suffer persecution; however, the research suggests that Sindhi Hindus are the largest minority group to suffer from so-called 'forced conversions,'" Dr Shaikh said.
"To date, not a single perpetrator has been convicted, because Pakistani state institutions favor religion rather than justice and the rule of law. The forced conversion of young Sindhi girls is not only violence against women but a multi-faceted human rights violation, encompassing religious persecution, human trafficking, and sexual violence against children," Dr Shaikh explained.
Shaikh argued that Congress should review all US foreign aid to Pakistan to ensure that it is being administered in compliance with international human rights laws and specifically towards disadvantaged and vulnerable populations like Sindhi Hindus.
He also suggested US assistance focus more on the NGOs in Sindh who are already working on civil rights issues related to religious minorities in Pakistan and that "together with those NGOs they could create greater awareness, build women's shelters, educate lawmakers, train police, and give a boost to human rights defenders."
In her presentation, Kulkarni discussed current US government classifications and citations of Pakistan's human rights and religious freedom violations in the State Department's 2021 Human Trafficking Report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2021 Annual Report, as well as HAF's recently released Hindus in Pakistan: A Survey of Human Rights 2020 Report.
She noted that "at least 1,000 minority girls are abducted every year in Pakistan and human trafficked. If we extrapolate this data out from 2011, at least 10,000 Hindu, Christian, and Sikh girls have been stolen from their families and denied their basic human rights in the last ten years. That is unacceptable," Kulkarni said.
Pakistan on several occasions has promised to safeguard the interests of minority communities in the nation. However, rampant attacks on the minorities narrate a different story.
Islamabad has been discriminating against its religious minorities, which is manifested in various forms of targeted violence, mass murders, extrajudicial killings, abduction, rapes, forced conversion to Islam, etc., making the Pakistani Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadiyyas, and Shias one of the most persecuted minorities in the region.
The 2020 report International Religious Freedom released by the United States earlier this year highlighted a downward spiral of religious expression in Pakistan, most notably in the form of blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranges up to the death penalty.
Citing civil society reports, the IRF report mentioned that there were many individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 35 of whom had received death sentences, as compared with 82 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges and 29 who received death sentences in 2019.
At least 199 individuals were accused of blasphemy offenses, a significant increase over 2019 and the highest number of blasphemy cases in a single year in the country's history.
The accused were mostly Shia (70 per cent of cases) and Ahmadi Muslims (20 per cent of cases).
Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country with about 220 million population. Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan. (ANI)