On the 24th of February this year in Pakistan, a Hindu girl Rinkle Kumari went missing from her home without clothes, money or even footwear. The next her family heard of her was when MNA Mian Abdul Haq called up her family to inform them that she was with him and she had converted to Islam and that her new name was Faryal and that she had married a Muslim boy called Naveed Shah.
She was produced in court, where she clearly spoke of kidnapping and intimidation and forceful conversion and marriage in the presence of the judge and her family. Ordinarily, this should have been a clear indication for her to be restored to her family and criminal proceedings to be started against her supposed husband who had kidnapped her, the MNA who was making a travesty of the law in the country he was sworn to serve and matters should have been about proving guilt.
However, Pakistan is no ordinary country. In an appropriately bizarre decision, the judge remanded her to police custody and set a new date for a hearing. In police custody, she was allegedly tortured and threatened. In the next hearing, her family and any Hindus were kept out of the courtroom. The police refused to file a case. To make a long story short, Rinkle Kumari is in her "married" home. Justice has been thoroughly subverted by the judge supposed to uphold it. Law has been abandoned by those supposed to protect it and the rights of citizens are devastated by an elected representative. The family has nowhere to turn to. This story is repeated in many ways with other Hindu girls, Christian girls.
Fairly normal for Pakistan from the sound of it, so I am not going to make any stupid arguments about what has already happened.
What I am interested in is the future. The past has already happened, but every moment is a choice in moving ahead. With this in mind, I want to say a few things.
The weakest sections of society are the alarms of a country. They are indicators that something is wrong. Their weakness makes them succumb first, but make no mistake, the rot is attacking the whole country. A chain breaks at its weakest link, then at the next weakest link, then the next weakest link, till the few strong links surviving are rendered meaningless because there is no chain anymore. Much as nationalists secretly believe, this breaking cannot be arrested after only the undesirable links are gone. To save the chain, breakage itself must be stopped.
To begin with, I want to address the issue of religion. This is clearly a situation of religious chauvinism. A few things to consider here are if they really believe in Allah, then who is anyone fooling here? A thought for the supposed Muslims supporting this travesty is the question of who is really guiding their actions in the name of religion? Can they put their hands on the Quran and say that Rinkle Kumari has been treated as a wife should be as per Islam? If she had converted to Islam willingly, why was she surrounded by gunmen instead of sitting peacefully next to her husband on her own?
It is a thought worth thinking about deeply, because ill treatment of women is a growing epidemic in their country (and yes, India too, if it makes anyone feel better - as though having company in a gutter makes you smell of roses). These are crimes of opportunism. A person without respect for women is soon going to run out of "ideal" victims, and spill over into society at large as they get bolder. It may today be Rinkle Kumari, but tomorrow it can be anyone, of any religion, because treating women like possessions is an attitude, not specific situation.
To Islamic leaders. It is easy to mobilize people in the name of religion. To sanction the "conquer" of "enemy" "women" like possessions. There were practices of killing women after losing wars with Mughals that were unprecedented on the Indian subcontinent for fear of the kind of treatment minorities in Pakistan are getting today. There is an ugly tendency to harm the women of perceived enemies that has not even spared other Muslim women when deemed as enemies, as the rapes immortalized in Bangladesh's birth. I don't think this is the kind of reputation Mohammed or Allah wanted you guys to earn. With time, every predator is prey, and such actions continuing unchecked seed the future.
The culture of xenophobia goes with devastating its own minorities. The worship of power for its own sake is destroying the weaker people regardless of religion. In both our countries, I must add.
Thought for the PPP and Pakistan's government. Your name and reputation is under considerable damage, and sooner or later you have to face citizens in elections. Something a friend once reassured me when I lost hope on justice for the weaker sections of society comes to mind. He had told me that the vast masses have no voice, no power, but the one thing they do have, their vote, they wield to devastating effect when it is time. It is worth thinking about what is being offered to the country if an elected representative of the people is himself destroying them.
But then, how does being elected help either, if the leaders are led by the nose by whoever makes the loudest noise? Where is the point where a leader leads action to create a change for the better? How many times has that point been passed till it has been rendered a joke?
There has always been rivalry between India and Pakistan. I think Pakistan needs to try to rival India's recent epidemic of politicians experiencing jail facilities. Nothing like a political party to throw out the rotten apples and hold head high again, and nothing more empowering to the people to know that powerful people harming them will be brought to justice. That their country cares.
And then there is the thought of the "Hindu factor" and India.
India is committed to being committed to being committed to talking. The dossier Raj is alive and well, and the tendency to not piss off Pakistan is getting dishonest. If there is to be a friendship between the two countries, then friends also speak up when things are going wrong. Otherwise, it is the same old goody goody half-trust facade that will suspend briefly after terror strikes. India's silence on the situation in Balochistan is deplorable, but considering the Kashmir skeleton in our closet, understandable. However, if we persist in calling Gilgit as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, then what explains our silence during the recent slaughter of Shias there? Or on the plight of Hindus, when our countries were separated on the basis of religion?
But beyond that, there needs to be serious and quick reform in our policies for asylum. Hindus from PoK who migrated back here are still in a citizenship no-man's land. Hindus from Balochistan who asked for asylum here are on tenterhooks. Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are pickled into supposedly temporary camps in Andaman and Nicobar at government expense. Seemingly forever, I might add. We simply are clueless about what to do with people coming into the country.
On the other hand, illegal migrants from Bangladesh being cultivated by politicians as vote banks are thriving. Clearly, the message seems to be the usual one for our country - do something illegal and present us fait acompli and we will sanction it as a favor if you vote for us. Go by the book and rot in limbo or worse, get refused.
India has historically been a refuge for people far and wide. Educational refuge because of our ancient institutions, economic refuge for our natural resources and political refuge for an inclusive sanctuary to the persecuted. Be it the ancient Parsis or Jews or African tribes or something as recent as embracing the Tibetan refugees to the point they could secure a government in exile. Heck we even absorbed religion, practices and language from our conquerors. Our political paralysis is destroying our ability to assimilate people. In my eyes, this is a grave loss, because the legend of India is its ability to easily absorb influences and people and evolve - a living culture.
This current cluelessness needs to change. We should readily have offered to support those in trouble we have cultural links with, at least. Whether it is a policy of granting asylum to all, or at the very least those persecuted for reasons with origins in India - including religions like Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Ahmadis, or even Christians from Pakistan with ancestors from a united India for example. If a person is unsafe for reasons that are tied to India culturally or historically, then India must find it in her heart to embrace them. To retain something precious of who we are.
A good time to start would be now, by offering asylum to Rinkle and other Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan. This is not only about sanctuary, but the pressure of losing minorities on record for reasons of human rights abuse. Whether the offer is taken up or not, the fact that it is made itself will add a layer of political protection.
With our ambitions of superpower come responsibilities of nurturing our people, inside India, or wherever in the world they are.