Human rights activists joined a call by some members of Pakistan's Hindu community to protest alleged forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam on Thursday, officially deemed National Minorities Day in Pakistan.
The call for protest in various Pakistani cities — as well as abroad in Toronto, New York and Houston —singled out an individual famously known by the alias Mian Mithu as the prime culprit for the alleged conversions.
"He's a symbol of terror. He's a symbol of forced conversions … and Hindus from that area, they cannot even dare to utter a single word [against him]," said activist Kapil Dev, who used social media to initiate the push to demonstrate.
Mithu, whose real name is Mian Abdul Haq, is a politician and Muslim cleric who belongs to an influential family in Pakistan's Sindh province — home to most Hindus who live in Pakistan. The country's Hindu community has long alleged that he provides protection to those who kidnap Hindu girls, often under age 18, and forcefully converts them to Islam before he marries them off to their kidnappers.
FILE - A woman and two girls peer out from a doorway in a Hindu neighborhood in Lyari, in Karachi, Pakistan, May 5, 2009.
Mithu was targeted in a case several years ago when the family of a Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari, filed a petition in court alleging he supported her abduction.
The court decided, after hearing Kumari's statement, to send her with her husband, but her family alleged that Mithu used strong-arm tactics and political influence during the legal process to influence the outcome.
Mithu strongly denies these allegations.
"The girls who come to us are mature,” he said. “Within hours of their arrival, we call their parents so they can talk to their daughters … offer them to come meet them. If the girls still refuse to go, as Muslims we then provide them protection."
Dev, however, questioned whether these were simple cases of voluntary conversions, asking why most of the girls from around the province went to Mithu and not to any other Muslim cleric.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, President of the Pakistani Hindu Council, said the forced conversions, particularly of Hindu girls to Islam, was one of their biggest problems and the catalyst for Hindus leaving Pakistan.
Hindus are demanding a change in the law and a mechanism for conversion that could help determine free will.