Minorities in Pakistan disturbed over forced conversions
The leaders expressed serious reservations over the Supreme Court's decision in the case of three Hindu women who were allegedly forced to convert and marry Muslims.
Earlier this week, a bench led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said the women should decide their future, following which they chose to go with their husbands.
Emmanuel Yousaf and Peter Jacob, representatives of the Catholic National Commission for Justice and Peace, underlined the need for a comprehensive review of the issue of forced conversions and a firm stand by the government to uphold justice and human rights.
Referring to the cases of Rinkle Kumari, Asha Kumari and Lata Kumari, who were allegedly forced to convert, Yousaf and Jacob said the apex court's procedures had become an "instrument of injustice" as the principle of free consent was applied loosely or selectively and in disregard to social realities.
"For instance, in many cases of so-called conversions of minority women, the courts have overlooked ascertaining the age of the converted and whether the marrying male had taken permission from his first wife according to Muslim Personal Law," they said in a statement.
"Applying the principle of free consent without looking at corroborative evidence and that too in the social context, where religious freedom and gender equality is yet a pipe dream, can result in miscarriage of justice. The law and court procedures cannot work on an assumption that armed and unarmed, minority and majority, men and women enjoy the equal scope of free will in a weaponised, male-dominated, violent and bigoted environment," the statement said.
Jacob said the Supreme Court's judgment of April 18 on the three Hindu women "has worried the religious minorities, who already face an existential threat, demographically but also due to rising religious intolerance".
The court should have looked "deeper into the issue and made a principled stand", he said.
A court review of the three cases should have applied legal principles of "safeguarding the vulnerable", the statement said.
Jacob said the Supreme Court or the government could control damage to religious diversity by defining forced conversion according to international standards of religious freedom, including a right to re-convert.
Irrespective of the free will rhetoric, "if a conversion comes simultaneously with marriage and the newly converted cannot meet her parents, then it is not an exercise of free choice of religion beyond a reasonable doubt", the minority leaders contended.
The Supreme Court should take full cognizance of conversions under duress and any cover up for crimes under the pretext of conversion, they added.
The Catholic National Commission for Justice and Peace would be happy to aid the Supreme Court or any other forum if a comprehensive review of issues is conducted to ensure equality of citizens, Jacob said.