Earlier this month, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) hosted its second Capitol Hill Speaker Series briefing of the year for Members of Congress and congressional staff. Entitled “Pakistan’s ‘Conversion Factories’ & Discrimination of Religious Minorities”, the briefing featured HAF Director of Human Rights Deepali Kulkarni and World Sindhi Congress USA-Director Dr. Saghir Shaikh, who provided compelling testimony on the life threatening challenges that Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmaddiyas and other religious minorities face in Pakistan’s Sindh province.
The briefing began with opening remarks and introduction of the panelists by HAF Director of Public Policy Taniel Koushakjian, who moderated the panel discussion following the presentations. He explained the dangerous environment that all religious minorities face, and the atmosphere of impunity in which state and non-state actors work together to manipulate, forcefully convert, and human traffic young girls into sexual slavery simply because of their faith.
“All religious minority groups in Pakistan suffer persecution; however, the research suggests that Sindhi Hindus are the largest minority group to suffer from so-called ‘forced conversions,’” Dr. Shaikh said.
“To date not a single perpetrator has been convicted, because Pakistani state institutions favor religion rather than justice and the rule of law. The forced conversion of young Sindhi girls is not only violence against women but a multi-faceted human rights violation, encompassing religious persecution, human trafficking, and sexual violence against children,” Dr. Shaikh explained.
Shaikh argued that Congress should review all US foreign aid to Pakistan to ensure that it is being administered in compliance with international human rights laws and specifically towards disadvantaged and vulnerable populations like Sindhi Hindus.
He also suggested US assistance focus more on the NGOs in Sindh who are already working on civil rights issues related to religious minorities in Pakistan and that “together with those NGOs they could create greater awareness, build women’s shelters, educate lawmakers, train police, and give a boost to human rights defenders.”
In her presentation, Kulkarni discussed current US government classifications and citations of Pakistan’s human rights and religious freedom violations in the State Department’s 2021 Human Trafficking Report, the US Commision on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2021 Annual Report, as well as HAF’s recently released Hindus in Pakistan: A Survey of Human Rights 2020 Report.
She noted that “at least 1,000 minority girls are abducted every year in Pakistan and human trafficked. If we extrapolate this data out from 2011, at least 10,000 Hindu, Christian, and Sikh girls have been stolen from their families and denied their basic human rights in the last ten years. That is unacceptable,” Kulkarni said.