Chanda Maharaj’s story serves as a tragic reminder of the continued struggle of non-Muslim minorities, particularly women and girls, for basic human rights in Islamic Pakistan.
In August 2022, Chanda Maharaj, a 13-year-old Hindu girl, was forcibly abducted in the Fateh Chowk area of Hyderabad, Sindh, Pakistan, while on her way back home from the mill area of Fateh Chowk. According to her father Ammar and her sisters, she was taken by people riding in a white car, including Muslim Shaman Magsi, who had been regularly harassing her. A complaint was filed with the police, but no action was taken. Her distraught mother made a heart-rending appeal for her daughter’s return, but her fate remained unknown for some time. Activist group Voice of Sindh lodged an FIR with the police, but the SSP Hyderabad did not take action. It wasn’t until an international outcry that the police finally rescued Chanda.
Chanda’s distraught mother made a heart-rending appeal for her daughter’s return, but her fate remained unknown.
There were even disturbing reports that Chanda was gang-raped and possibly even kept in Balochistan for some time. The Muslim abductor produced fake conversion and marriage certificates, hinting at the involvement of a well-oiled nexus.
After some time in the shelter, authorities handed the abused child back to her abductor, leaving her family in shock and despair. Her parents do not know where she is nor whether she is alive or has been killed.
Sindh law prohibits marriage of anyone below 18, although implementation is questionable. In 2020, the Sindh High Court passed a shocking judgment on the abduction of a 14-year-old Christian girl Huma Younus – the court held that even if Huma were underage, her ‘marriage’ with her abductor would still stand as she had started menstruating (sharia law says that a girl can be considered legal for a forced marriage once she has attained puberty or turned 15). There have been a few attempts to pass an anti-forced conversion bill. Still, it has always been hampered by Muslim clerics and bodies like the Council of Islamic Ideology, which exercises a kind of veto in such matters.
In the odd case that police recover a girl due to pressure from her family, human rights activists, and some local media outlets, a familiar script plays out. First, the girl is threatened to give a statement in court in favor of her abductors and declare that she ‘chose Islam of her own free will.’ Then, medical panels are rigged or bribed to ensure that she is declared to be the age of consent, and all necessary documentation to prove the conversion and ‘marriage’ are fabricated like clockwork. Beyond this point, the poor parents cannot afford to pursue legal recourse and resign themselves to their fate.
The situation of Hindus, Christians, and other religious minorities, especially women, is worsening in Pakistan, according to the International Forum for Rights and Security (IFFRAS). Discrimination from authorities, political groups, religious parties, the feudal structure, and the Muslim majority have made minority women and girls the worst victims. They are abducted, forcibly converted, forcibly “married,” and abused, with their families unable to challenge these crimes using legal avenues.
Abducting for the purpose of forced conversion and marriage is a major issue in Pakistan, with Christian and Hindu girls and young women often forced to wed much older Muslim men against their will. Human rights organizations working on this issue estimate that every year 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are forced to convert to Islam — an estimate that could be far higher as many cases remain unreported. One significant motivation behind this is the aspiration to boost Pakistan’s Muslim population, driven by the Islamic belief that those who convert non-Muslims to Islam will earn a place in paradise.
In Pakistan, religious minorities are viewed as lower than Muslims because they do not adhere to Islam. In addition, because Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, non-Muslims are considered second-class citizens, and their faiths are considered less holy. This lessening of the importance of non-Muslims helps create a religious hierarchy that justifies the abuse.
Governmental and law enforcement agencies are well-informed about the issue but refuse to officially acknowledge it. Instead, they argue that Islam does not stipulate a minimum age for conversion, and if a girl willingly chooses to embrace Islam, no action can be taken against it. In doing so, they shift the burden onto the victims and absolve themselves of any accountability. Furthermore, they accuse minority groups and NGOs of exaggerating the problem, claiming that it is a baseless accusation to advance their own agendas.
Human rights groups have been documenting the plight of Pakistan’s religious minorities for years, but only recently has the public become aware of their treatment, thanks to social media.
Chanda’s case is just one example of the ongoing struggle faced by religious minorities in Pakistan. Many other victims have reported frustration with local authorities and police for siding with perpetrators, while higher authorities have failed to pass legislation specifically criminalizing this problem.
Given this inaction, international pressure on Pakistan is crucial in ending this abuse. Without external motivation, it is unlikely that the Pakistani government will heed the calls of minority leaders and civil society to take action against forced conversions.
Human rights organizations such as the CHINGARI project are calling for Chanda and other women to be returned to their parents and for the Pakistani government to take action to protect the rights of minority communities.
The CHINGARI project is a global campaign to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of Hindu, Sikh, and other religious minority girls who have been abducted, sexually abused, and forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan. This campaign comes at a time when the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan is at an all-time high, with the systematic discrimination and persecution of these communities by the Pakistani authorities.
Pakistan has a long history of discrimination against its religious minorities, especially Hindus and Sikhs. The concentration of the Hindu population is now limited to just four districts in the Sindh province of Pakistan, and their population has dwindled drastically from 12.9% in 1947 to just 2.14% in 2017. The institutionalized forced conversion of these communities is carried out by the Dargah Bharchundi Sharif Seminary, with the backing of the Pakistan Judiciary.
According to a recent report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), around 1,000 women each year are abducted, sexually abused, and converted to Islam in Pakistan. These atrocities have been continuing for decades, and the victims of these crimes are often young girls between the ages of 12 and 17. They are abducted, married off to much older men, and forbidden from ever returning to their families.
The CHINGARI project, led by the Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective (HinduPACT), aims to highlight these innocent girls’ plight and bring awareness to Hindus across the globe through information advocacy, community outreach, and research. The project also seeks to make the local US representatives aware of Pakistan’s unstable religious situation and encourage them to take further action to convey their disapproval.
The CHINGARI project is an essential step towards highlighting the ongoing cultural genocide and extermination of religious minorities in Pakistan. It is a call to action for people worldwide to stand in solidarity with these communities and demand justice for the victims of these atrocities. The Pakistani government must take immediate action to address these communities’ systemic discrimination and persecution and ensure the protection of their fundamental human rights.
The call for an independent “Sindhudesh” (Pakistan) is gaining momentum across the province, with the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani army cracking down on Sindhi nationalist leaders, activists, and students. The colony-type treatment of Sindh province might lead to a situation similar to what happened with East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971. The exploitation of the natural resources and farmlands of Sindh by China through CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is also a cause of concern for the local communities.
The CHINGARI project is a powerful campaign to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of Hindu, Sikh, and other religious minority girls who have been abducted, sexually abused, and forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan. It is a call to action for people worldwide to stand in solidarity with these communities and demand justice for the victims of these atrocities. The Pakistani government must take immediate action to address the systemic discrimination and persecution of these communities and to ensure the protection of their basic human rights.