KARACHI - The reversion of two upper-caste Hindu girls to Islam in Pakistan is bringing the two religious Muslim and Hindu communities at loggerheads.
I have embraced Islam at my free will, Faryal Bibi told a press conference at Karachi Press Club along with her husband.
I am a Muslim now, and I must be called as Faryal Shah.Faryal, formerly Rinkal Kumari, and Dr Hafsa (Lata Kumari) reverted to Islam last month at the hand of local Muslim leader and MP Mian Abdul Haq in Mirpur Mathelo, 500km northeast of Karachi.
Soon after embracing Islam, Dr Hafsa married Nadir Baig, while Faryal tied knot with Naveed Shah.
But their parents claim that the two girls were kidnapped and forced to embrace Islam.
Hindu girls are being kidnapped and forced to change their religion, Ramesh Lal, Chairman of the Hindu Council, told OnIslam.net.
He claimed that during last few years, several Hindu girls have been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam.
This all is being done to bully us (Hindus), and leave Pakistan, Ramesh Lal said.
A similar claim is echoed by lawyer Amr Lal.
Some disgruntled elements are trying to cause Hindu-Muslim riots in a bid to force Hindus to leave Pakistan, he told OnIslam.net.
She (Faryal) should be handed over to us. If she has embraced Islam at her will, we too will celebrate her wedding.
The lawyer, however, admits that the two girls stick to their statements regarding embracing Islam with their free will before the Supreme Court.
The lawyer accuses Muslim leader and MP Mian Abdul Haq of tarnishing the secular image of his Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
He (Haq) is a blot on the PPP's face. He has even refused to attend the phone of President Zardari, and Prime Minister Gilani, he said.
But the claims are dismissed by the Muslim leader, known for his charity work for low-caste Hindus and poor Muslims in the town.
To force someone for embracing Islam is completely Haraam. I cannot even think about that, Haq told OnIslam.net.
He said he had informed the parents of the newly-converted girls and waited for four hours before they gave Shahadah to become Muslim, but they never turned up.
This is totally misleading and baseless that I have been forcing Hindus to leave Pakistan, he said.
I have been taking care of hundreds of poor Hindu families, and never asked them to change their religion.
The controversy has left the Hindu and Muslim communities locked in horns.
Why only Hindu girls are converting? Why not Hindu boys, Dr Azra Peichuhu, a sister of President Asif Ali Zardari and member of the National Assembly, told an assembly session.
There should be a ban on change of religion just for the sake of marriage, she said, calling for handing over the two girls to their parents.
However, hundreds of Hindus took to the streets in support of Abdul Haq in the native town of the newly-converted girls.
Chanting slogans in favor of the Muslim leader, the protestors, including women and children, said the upper class Hindus are trying to trigger communal riots.
Our forefathers have been living here for centuries. We have never been forced by anyone, including Mian Abdul Haq to change our religion, Shev Lal, the local leader of lower-caste Hindus, told OnIslam.net.
Instead, he said, the PPP parliamentarian has been taking care of the lower-caste Hindus in his constituency for years.
Hindus make up 2 percent of Pakistan's 180 million population, the second largest minority in the south Asian Muslim nation after Christians, who account for 3 percent.
Hindus have divided themselves into two major castes; the upper caste, which comprises the white-skinned and rich Hindus and lower-caste, which consists of poor and black-skinned Hindus.
Low-caste Hindus make up 82 percent of the total 5 million Hindus in Pakistan, of which a majority dwells in Sindh province.
Analysts see economic factors behind the conversion of the upper-class Hindu girls.
This is not at all a religious or sectarian issue, Amr Guriro, a journalist who belongs to the lower-caste Hindus, told OnIslam.net.
Economy is a major reason behind conversion of girls from upper-class (Hindus), Amr told OnIslam.net.
He points out that dowry is an indispensible part of a wedding in upper-class Hindus, which amounts between Rs 300,000,0 ($32000) to Rs 400,000,0 ($42,000).
Dowry is a must for wedding of an upper-class Hindu girl. If her parents don't have the power to give dowry, she will remain sit at home, but never got married.
And, this is the reason for which many Hindu girls have embraced Islam and got married, he opined.
He dispels the impression that the ongoing conversion controversy may trigger Hindu-Muslim riots in Sindh.
This (protest by upper-class Hindus) has nothing to do with common Hindus who are 92 percent of the total (Hindu) population, he said.
Conversion in lower-class Hindus is not because of marriage-related issues as they wed their girls too early due to no dowry condition.
However, a large number of lower-class Hindus have embraced Islam during last few decades in southern parts of Sindh following charity and preaching activities of Islamic parties.If you notice, there is no hue and cry if any lower-class Hindu is converted. It is only when an upper-class Hindu girl or boy is converted, Amr said.