Islamabad: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has directed the Sindh government to frame a draft law to amend the Constitution to prevent forced conversion of minority communities in the southern province.

During a meeting held in Karachi on Thursday, Zardari directed Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to form a committee under provincial Law Minister Ayaz Soomro to prepare the draft law to amend the constitution.

Elected representatives and leaders of the Hindu Panchayat will be included in the committee, The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying.

The President made the decision after he was briefed about the concerns of Hindus by his sister Faryal Talpur, a lawmaker of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, and Chief Minister Shah.

"The reports of the mass migration of Hindus to India are merely speculative but people of the Hindu community are insisting that a law is made against forced conversions," Shah was quoted as saying by the sources.

Zardari directed Talpur and Shah to visit Jacobabad and meet representatives of the Hindu community before the draft law is framed.

The President recently formed a committee of three parliamentarians headed by federal Minister Maula Bux Chandio to meet the Hindu community across Sindh following reports of their mass migration to India due to forced conversions, kidnapping for ransom and extortion demands.

Member of Sindh Cabinet

A member of the Sindh cabinet familiar with the latest developments said: "If any case of conversion is reported without the consent of a girl and her parents, the (police station chiefs) would frame charges of kidnapping against the people involved."

When two PPP legislators from minority communities – Saleem Khurshid Khokhar and Pitanber Sewani – moved a resolution against forced conversions in the Sindh Assembly a few months ago and demanded legislation on the issue, the only opposition had come from senior lawmakers of the PPP.

The lawmakers had argued that minorities in Pakistan already enjoy protection under Article 20 of the Constitution and that a law to protect them already exists. They contended that there was no need for new legislation. The Hindu Council had filed a petition in Sindh High Court seeking a law against forced conversions but it too was dismissed on the same ground.

Babu Mahesh Lal, president of the Hindu Panchayat in Jacobabad, is not convinced about the moves being made by the PPP.

"If the Constitution gives us full projection, then why is the state not protecting us when minor girls are kidnapped and kept in confinement without a marriage contract?" he asked.

"Why is the marriage of a 12-year-old girl solemnized after she is kidnapped?" he said. Sham Kumar, a writer and an activist of the Hindu community, asked why Hindu girls are not converting at seminaries but only at marriage ceremonies.

"Why only Hindu girls are embracing Islam? Why not our boys?" he asked. These were all cases of forced conversion, he said.


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