‘I converted, married of my own will,’ Sindhi girl tells court in ‘forced conversion’ case

  • Ravita Meghwar alias Gulnaz pleads she wants to live with her husband
  • Her Hindu family claims she was abducted, converted by Muslim men on June 6

HYDERABAD – A woman from interior Sindh, who was allegedly ‘abducted before forcibly converted to Islam by few men’, has denied her parents’ claims while appearing before a high court.

Ravita Meghwar – who her parents alleged had been abducted by men from the Syed community of Wanharo village near Nagarparkar, Thar, on June 6 and forcibly converted to Islam – on Friday told the Sindh High Court Circuit Bench, Hyderabad that she wants to live with her husband.

Satram Das Meghwar, Ravita’s father, had alleged that the abductors had kidnapped his daughter after giving sleeping pills to the family.

However, while appearing before the SHC bench in tight security, Ravita alias Gulnaz denied being abducted or forced to convert, saying she was “in love” with Nawaz Shah and maintaining that her parents’ claims were false, Dawn reported.

The girl says she embraced Islam in the presence of Pir Mohammad Ayub Jan Farooqui, a preacher, near the Samarro town of Umerkot district.

According to the marriage certificate issued by the preacher, “The girl is approximately eighteen years old, can marry the person of her choice and her Islamic name is Gulnaz”.

Nawaz Ali Shah, her husband, in his statement said that they first met in their village, where he gave her a mobile phone to establish a communication channel. They remained connected through the device and decided to get married later.

Bhagwandas, the counsel for Ravita’s father, argued that the girl may have given the statement under pressure since she was currently with Nawaz Shah.

During the previous hearing, Justice Salahuddin Panhwar had decided to send Gulnaz, to Darul Aman for a day where she will be able to see her mother.

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The Hindu community, along with the girl’s family, had alleged that she was kidnapped and forced to convert. School documents indicated her current age is 16 years.

Nonetheless, Advocate Ali Palh of Rightsnow Pakistan, which is a party to the case, maintains that Ravita is underage and her marriage was in contradiction with Article 20 of Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. Therefore, her marriage should be declared null and void, he has argued in his petition.

He added that Rightsnow had used the case of Anjali and Peshawar Church as a precedent in their case.

Ravita’s alleged abduction and protests had stirred protests by Hindu community and activist groups in Sindh.

Uproar over ‘forced conversions’

Earlier this month, the Pakistan Hindu Council had appealed to the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the rise in kidnappings, forced conversions and forced marriages of underage Hindu girls to Muslim men in Sindh.

“Five thousand Pakistani Hindus are being forced to migrate every year,” said Pakistan Hindu Council patron-in-chief and MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani during a council meeting to discuss Rawita’s case. ““Remaining a poor community, they have no other option but to keep quiet,” he added.

MNA Vankwani demanded that Ravita be rescued, saying such incidents could be described as social crimes in any civilised society “but in Sindh, hate-mongering elements were presenting it [abduction and forced conversion] as a good deed under the garb of religion.”

He further said the council had never opposed conversion to Islam if it is done wilfully by the person.

Contrary to that, the girl’s latest testimony has brought a twist into the case highlighting the often overlooked side of religious conversions in the country.

Gulnaz’s case also contradicts the hardline narrative of using religion and ‘forced conversion’ which denies the woman her right to marry with her own choice.

Even though Ravita’s parents said they would withdraw the case if she chose to remain with her husband of her free will, the family has filed an application in SHC Circuit Bench Hyderabad that will be heard on June 30.