There’s something universal about this story. Muslim man marries non-Muslim woman; much protest by the woman’s family and community follows; that, in turn, fetches a belligerent response; the story ends with the woman meekly ‘admitting’ she has acted on her own, that there has been no coercion, that it is love for her man which has made her forsake faith and family.
In the days when Egypt was yet to be run over by the Muslim Brotherhood and secular Arab nationalism still held sway, clashes between Coptic and Muslim Egyptians were commonplace. More often than not the street battles would follow a Coptic woman marrying a Muslim man. She was abducted and forcibly converted, the Copts would insist; not true, the Muslims would scream back.
From screaming to brick-batting to running riot was like a game of hop, skip and jump. Reason would be stumped by emotion and the truth would be stained by the blood that was shed. I was witness to one such clash in Cairo which involved a Muslim and a Coptic friend on either side of the divide — I pleaded with both to leave me, a foreigner, out of a dispute of which I understood little.
That was subterfuge. At home in India similar clashes occur though we rarely if ever get to read or hear of them. Last year, the parents of a Hindu teenaged girl went to Calcutta High Court seeking their ‘minor’ daughter’s return from her Muslim ‘captor’ — the man who had allegedly ‘abducted’ and married her against her wishes. The court’s ruling, that there was nothing to suggest she had been abducted, and that the marriage was legal under shari’ah, understandably left the parents inconsolable.
Real life is quite contrary to reel life. In Mani Ratnam’s blockbuster Bombay, there’s a role reversal: A Muslim woman runs away with a Hindu man, marries him, and both live happily together though neither finds parental support. Such stories make for good screenplay but aren’t quite the stuff of which real life experiences are made of.
Also, the view from the drawing rooms of the chattering classes bears little resemblance to the view from the one-room tenements of the under-classes. What’s fashionably acceptable to the former becomes loathsomely abhorrent to the latter. You could contest this point by citing the tragic denouement of the Rizwanur Rahman–Priyanka Todi affair, but do remember that exception proves the rule.
The reason I raise this issue is the current outrage over the saga of three Pakistani Hindu women, Rinkle Kumari, Lata and Asha Kumari, all residents of Sindh Province, who were ‘abducted’ and ‘forcibly’ married to Muslim men after being converted to Islam ‘against their wishes’ — at least that’s what their families and the Hindu community claim.
Their parents sought judicial intervention. But their hopes of being reunited with their daughters were dashed when the Supreme Court ruled that they had left home of their own accord, that they had embraced Islam willingly, and, that they had married men of their choice. Prior to the ruling, the women were kept in isolation at a rescue home, and no contact was allowed with their families.
The families are distraught and the Hindu community is enraged. There’s sufficient evidence to suggest that Rinkle, Lata and Asha did not become Faryal, Hafsa Bibi and Haleema Bibi voluntarily but because they had no choice. It is also believed, for good reason, Mian Mithu, a Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian, and his henchmen terrorised the three women (and their families), threatening them with ‘dire consequences’.
A huge body of evidence exists, endorsed by Pakistani human rights activists and organisations, to prove that the rapidly dwindling community of Hindus, who comprise an insignificant minority, is under siege. Hindu girls and women are routinely abducted, converted and forced into marriage with Muslims. The story is only marginally different in the interiors of Bangladesh.
All this is no doubt distressing, not the least because the Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh chose to stay back instead of migrating to India at the time of Partition. Their persecution violates the principles of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950. It could, of course, be argued that the agreement has long been rendered meaningless.
Frankly, there’s little that India can do by way of intervention other than seek to persuade Pakistan to be more alert to Hindu grief in that country. But that’s unlikely to work. A far better option would be to open our doors to the remaining Hindus in Pakistan (and Bangladesh). Through the ages the persecuted have found shelter in India. We can’t turn our faces away from those who are being tormented today.
The writer is a journalist, political analyst and activist