May 142012

My column in today’s  DNA

Rinkle Kumari was a typical teenager, growing up in Mirpur Mathelo in Sindh, Pakistan. Given the attacks against Hindus in the State, especially girls from the community, her parents were extra vigilant about their daughter. One day in late February, men broke into the house, kidnapped Rinkle converted her to Islam and then got her married off to a neighbour. Due to the tireless, thankless and courageous work of civil society & human rights activists in Pakistan the case did not die. It was revealed that there was an organised ring, led by a leading politician from the area, that was kidnapping and trafficking girls. The case went to court, but the politician and his mob filled the court and the neighbourhood. Rinkle’s family faced threats, and Rinkle did the only thing she could to keep her family safe – accepted that the kidnapping, and forcible conversion did not occur and her current state in life was of her own accord. The issue became a cause célèbre , not just in Pakistan but in India and resonated across the world. Rinkle Kumari was not the first girl to be kidnapped and put through this torture, nor will she be the last. Women and religious minorities are particularly vulnerable in Pakistan because the State is unable protect their rights. The State is failing, if not already failed, which makes it open season on everyone who is not strong enough to protect themselves.

The question is what can India do? In Rinkle Kumari’s( case – does India have locus standi in taking the issue of criminal acts that take place in Pakistan against its citizens? Not really. Rinkle Kumari is a Pakistani citizen, crime against her has been committed in Pakistan’s sovereign territory. India could invoke the  Nehru Liaqat pact, but given the number of pacts and agreements that Pakistan has violated, it would be naïve to expect them to honour this. The maximum India can do is proactively offer asylum to her, her family and the remaining Hindus in Sindh. But why only Hindus, why not Sikhs, Christians, Ahmediyaas, Shias and the rest,? Civilisationally and culturally they all have links with India. Religion alone doesn’t define culture or civilisation, there are other factors like language, ethnicity, shared history. And why only Pakistan? Why not those in Bangladesh or in Sri Lanka? Also should you only look at people being discriminated on the basis of religion, or do you look at it in a larger perspective – people being discriminated for their beliefs and ideals? But to do that India needs a coherent Asylum Policy.

In 1951, most UN members signed the Refugee Convention. As per this convention a refugee was a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality.”. In more recent times civil war and targeted human right abuses have also formed the basis of declaring a person or a community as refugee. Neither India nor any of the South Asian nations are signatories to this convention or the 1967 protocol that abolished geographical barriers to seeking refuge. However, the Republic of India has traditionally provided asylum to those who cross her borders and ask for protection. In 1959, a large number of Tibetans crossed over to India and were granted refugee status. Many of them found jobs and settled here. Subsequent to that, India changed her policies. Refugees live in camps and have neither the right to free movement within India nor are they entitled to work.   Most are in a state of suspended animation and have their lives at standstill. If Rinkle and her family escaped to India this is what they would face, and there is something terribly wrong and unjust about that.

From time immemorial, India has been a refuge for the persecuted. Kings granted asylum, people became citizens, and added to the diversity that is India. For the ancient Parsis, Jews, Siddhis from Africa, Iraqis, – India was a beacon for hope and freedom where people could make their homes, bring up their families and practise their beliefs without fear. For the modern Tamils, Tibetans, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis seeking refuge – home is a camp, where they have little or no citizenship rights. To be considered a world power, you don’t just need nuclear arsenal and growing prosperity. There needs also to be a measure of compassion, sharing and providing of refuge. India needs to start by offering asylum and citizenship to the persecuted minorities in its neighbourhood. There will be those who misuse this open policy – as they have in other countries. But the needs of the persecuted, the fate of one Rinkle far outweighs the misuse of an asylum policy.

May 082012

@pawandurani on twitter pointed me towards the story of Rinkle Kumari in Pakistan . I knew there was an issue vis-a-vis the rights of minorities across the board. I knew there were atrocities. but frankly, the occurrences across the border have not been in my line of sight. I read some articles/columns as and when I come across them, but it is very, very superficial reading. When Pawan pointed me to her story, i began reading about her in more detail. To paraphrase Stalin, one person’s story is a tragedy, millions are statistics


What i am going to do here is just compile content from various sources, it is heart rending. It is medieval and it makes you (me) cry at the tragedy of the entire thing. I totally respect journalists & activists such as Marvi Sirmed  in Pakistan working under tremendous pressure, in almost hostile territory,  not just towards minorities but also towards independent women who assert their citizenship rights,  to keep cases like this alive. I wonder if it was me, would I have that kind of courage that Marvi exhibits in such a hostile environment. or would it be more convenient to hold my peace …  I hope it is the former. I really do.

In short, Rinkle Kumari is one of the

three young Hindu women who were allegedly kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men chose to live with their husbands instead of their families after the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday allowed them to choose their future.

Though the three women — Rinkle Kumari, Lata and Asha — were allowed to choose according to their free will by the court, their relatives and civil rights activists alleged that injustice had been done to them as they chose to go with the men they were married to out of coercion.


Marvi Sirmed writes on this

Rinkle was kidnapped on February 24 by Naveed Shah and four other people. Police refused to lodge an FIR and to include the names of the influential Mian Aslam, Mian Rafique and their father Mian Mithu. She was produced in the court of Civil Judge Ghotki where she insisted on going to her family but the judge illegally sent her to the police custody in Sukkur Women’s Police Station. In sheer mockery of the President of Pakistan and his party Co-Chairperson, Mithu announced in front of many civil society activists that if Rinkle’s custody is snatched from him, he will set Mirpur Mathelo ablaze. The president had given a media statement against forced conversions earlier that day. “Come what may, justice will have to prevail” was the answer in a firm strong voice when I asked Raj Kumar, Rinkle’s uncle, if he was scared. Probably this resolve has come from years of persecution and injustice. “It has been decades that Hindu girls have been abducted and forcibly converted. We hear little or no voice at all against this oppression,” said Amar Lal, counsel to Rinkle Kumari’s family.


A press release put out by activists and civil society says that

It made us extremely concerned when Rinkle Kumari was produced in the Supreme Court on March 26 and after recording her statement in-camera, she screamed in front of media that she wanted to go to her mother and that she was converted forcibly. We are astonished to know that Mian Mithu has been involved in buying and selling of Hindu girls, as has been reported in Sindhi language newspapers and as per information from the victims’ families. A girl Anita was abducted and married to a Muslim from whose home Mian Mithu’s nephew abducted her and sold her to another hand. She is reportedly living with her fourth buyer, reportedly at the behest of this Mian Mithu.


Mian Mithu is a MP. Rinku Kumari is a barely educated woman with zero rights because of both her gender and her faith.

The Question is what should India do ? Does India offer citizenship rights to all Hindus in Pakistan? it could. But, then why not all Christians – they face tremendous discrimination as well? Why not people from Baluchistan? indeed why not Ahmediyas. Why not women who are discriminated against? After all, civilisationally & culturally we – especially the Northern part of us – has a lot in common with those across the border. In fact far more in common with them than with citizens from the South or the North East or even the East. Why not those in Bangladesh or in China or the Burmese or Tamils from Sri Lanka? And should the granting of asylum be only for those of Indian origin?

I personally believe that India needs to evolve a very pro active system of granting asylum. We need to start projecting an image that respects rights and gives a home to those who are persecuted, discriminated and not allowed to excercise human rights. Ancient kings in the sub continent provided asylum to those who came to their shores without imposing any conditions on religion or colour. Be it the Siddhis or the Jews or the Iranians (Parsis) – they made their home and could practise their ways without interference.  The Government of India needs to throw open its doors to asylum seekers not just  in the neighbourhood, but world over

Will there be infiltration by unwanted elements. There already is. But the needs of the many outweigh the hate of the few. There will be those who misuse the system of asylum but one Rinkle Kumari saved outweighs the risk posed by the infiltrators.  Being a superpower is more than a seat at the security council. It is also standing up and being counted. India needs to open its doors for those who want to asylum. It needs to empower our consulates and embassies to grant asylum. The Indian embassies worldwide need to become the symbols of freedom. India needs to live up to its civilisational heritage – and that is more than a number system with a zero base.

Start offering asylum & citizenship  to the discriminated in Pakistan. Don’t be afraid of starting with providing asylum to the Hindus.  Set the precedent. Set the system and expand it to all who desire ashraya

Also have a look at this on storify