LAHORE: A teenage Hindu girl's kidnapping by an "influential" Muslim man in Pakistan's Punjab province sparked outrage among the minority community that held a sit-in here on Thursday, blocking the city's main road to press the Imran Khan government to recover her safely.
Holding placards and banners, the community members at Rahim Yar Khan, some 400-km from Lahore, were demanding the recovery of 17-year-old Naina and chanting slogans against forced conversions.
According to the FIR, Naina was kidnapped by Tahir Tamri, with the help of his father and brothers last month. It said the kidnappers took the girl to Karachi and got her embraced Islam at a seminary, Jamiatul Saeed Gulshan-i-Maima, after marrying her. She was given Muslim name Noor Fatima. The suspect uploaded their marriage and her embracing of Islam on social media.
The Hindu community members took to the streets on the second consecutive day Thursday to lodge their protest against the abduction and forced conversion of Naina. "Stop the forced conversion of Hindu girls after kidnapping them," read a placard.
During the protest, the girl's father Ragu Ram threatened that he will set himself on fire if justice is not provided. Rahim Yar Khan district reportedly houses 150,000 Hindus. The protesters ended demonstration after police high-ups assured them that the justice would be done.
Rahim Yar Khan police chief Umar Farooq Salamat said a police team has been sent to Karachi to recover the girl. "A police team of RYK is present in Karachi to trace the girl and the suspect and hopefully we will soon trace them," Salamat said.
Last month, two Hindu teenage sisters - Raveena (13) and Reena (15) - were allegedly kidnapped by a group of "influential" men from their home in Ghotki district in Sindh on the eve of Holi. Soon after the kidnapping, a video went viral in which a cleric was purportedly shown soleminising the marriage of the two girls, triggering a nationwide outrage.
In its annual report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) this week raised concerns about incidents of forced conversions and marriages of Hindu and Christian girls, saying around 1,000 such cases were reported in the southern Sindh province alone last year. "The cities where such cases occurred frequently included Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Karachi, Tando Allahyar, Kashmore and Ghotki," said the 335-page report titled 'State of Human Rights in 2018'.
A Hindu lawmaker from Prime Minister Imran Khan's party last month moved two bills in Parliament seeking enhancement of punishment for those involved in forced conversion and for making child marriage a cognisable offence. The bills were accompanied by a resolution with the support of minority lawmakers from all major political parties condemning such incidents.
The five-point resolution called for immediate passage of the bill against forced conversions, which had been unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2016 and then reverted due to pressure of extremist elements, from all the legislatures. Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan.
According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. Majority of Pakistan's Hindu population is settled in Sindh province. According to media reports, approximately 25 forced marriages take place every month only in Umerkot district in Sindh province.