Attack on religious unity

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After enjoying a short respite from targeted attacks, Hindus living in Sindh received another blow as a temple was vandalised in Khairpur. Last week, suspects set ablaze religious statues and desecrated holy books, including the Bhagavad Gita and Guru Granth Sahib, in Sham Sundar Shewa Mandli temple. The unfortunate incident has sparked a wide outrage from the Hindu community in the area who have demanded the state to unmask the culprits and bring them to justice.

Both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sindh Governor Imran Ismail have issued much-needed statements condemning the incident as “against the teachings of the Quran”, and “a conspiracy to sabotage the interfaith harmony and religious concord in the province”. However, mere words are not an effective enough approach to establish religious harmony across the country.

Despite attacks on its religious minorities, Sindh has largely boasted of religious coexistence. Towns like Mithi and even the aforementioned Khairpur are pristine examples of Muslims and Hindus living together in absolute harmony; a beautiful personification of the Sufi culture prevalent in Sindh. Nonetheless, distasteful episodes like these bring the bigotry grappling other parts of the country to these peaceful cities. A similar incident in 2014 saw some miscreants burning a Hindu temple in Larkana, followed by anti-Hindu riots in Badin. Pledges made to root out anti-Hindu sentiments then, however, seemed to be nothing more than empty promises.

The ever-disturbing trend of forced conversions and marriages of Hindu girls countrywide has not yet elicited any meaningful response from the state. Only last month, a Hindu minor, Anusha Meghwar, was allegedly kidnapped from Tharparker and married off to a Muslim man. A report by Movement of Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan estimated that more than 1,000 Christians and Hindu women are converted and married off to Muslim men forcibly every year. This is something the authorities seriously needs to open their eyes to. The relevant legislation is already present in the form of the Sindh government’s Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2013. Ergo, the state only needs to work on the existing machinery to make sure that no more minors are taken advantage of by influential feudal lords. Not only would this help Pakistan reiterate its commitment to the safety of its minority communities but also establish a lovely precedent on religious harmony for others to follow.