PESHAWAR (Web Desk) – The dispute over the forced conversion to Islam of a Kalash girl has taken a new turn after the 14-year-old said she converted of her own in free will in a statement recorded before a judicial magistrate on Friday.
A day earlier, Reena’s decision to convert sparked a clash between the Kalash tribe and members of the Muslim community in the Bamburate Valley of Chitral district, forcing police to use teargas to disperse the mobs.
The dispute started apparently because the girl backtracked on her conversion, and the Muslim community accused the Kalash tribe of forcing her to do so.
Speaking at a press conference along with her parents and other relatives yesterday, the teenage girl insisted that she became a Muslim of her own free will.
She said that some people had spread rumors that she had reverted to her Kalash parents’ religion and this became the cause of tension between the Muslims and Kalash community members.
“No one bothered to confirm the rumors that resulted in a tense situation in the area. Before starting agitation I should have been contacted about the rumors,” she maintained.
Reena, a ninth class student, said the Kalash women’s conversion to Islam was not a new phenomenon as many had become Muslim before her.
She also condemned the attack on a Kalash home and asked the protesters to remain calm and peaceful.
Speaking on the occasion, Sher Muhammad, the Qazi of Kalash community and Behram Shah said that Muslims and Kalash had been living peacefully in the valley for centuries.
There were reports on Thursday that Muslims had gathered to stage protest outside the house of Kalash family in Bamburet valley following rumours that Reena was present there and was reverting to the religion of the Kalash people. The protesters threw stones at the house.
The Kalash people, numbering about 4,000, live in 12 villages in three Chitral valleys – Bamburet, Rumbur and Birir – and follow certain rituals that are animist in nature. Increasingly their youth are converting to Islam, prompting activists to campaign to preserve the traditions of the ancient, diminishing tribe.
The number of the Kalash people is dwindling due to conversions to Islam.
Chitral Deputy Commissioner Usama Warraich along with his staff reached the valley on Friday and convened a jirga of elders from both sides. According to Warraich, the jirga thoroughly discussed the issue and both sides agreed that the girl’s statement would be final and that they will accept her wishes.
Chitral, a northern district of Khyber-Pukhtunkwa province, has long attracted tourists for its beauty and unique culture, of which the Kalash tradition is an important part.