A young girl from the Hindu community was shot dead in Sukkur, Sindh province, on Monday over her refusal to marry the accused, a local Muslim.
According to reports, 18-year-old Pooja Kumari was targeted near the Chhuahra Mandi area by Wahid Bux Lashari and two of his aides, who barged into Kumari’s house and opened fire on her. According to Sindhi media, the girl was said to have been shot in the middle of the street after she put up resistance to the attackers who wanted to abduct her.
Police registered an FIR [First Information Report] on the complaint of the teenager’s father under Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), Section 302 (punishment for murder), and 337H(ii) (punishment for hurt by rash or negligent act) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The main accused, Wahid Lashari, has been arrested and remanded into police custody for 10 days.
READ MORE: Life of a Hindu in Pakistan and State’s role in protecting its minorities
The brutal murder drew widespread condemnation on social media, as #JusticeforPooja began to trend.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the incident and said Sindh police had arrested all suspects in the case. He also lauded Sindh police for the “expeditious arrests”.
In a statement, Bilawal said the relevant authorities should make sure that the culprits were meted out stringent punishments. The PPP chief also expressed solidarity with Kumari’s family and said anyone intending to harm the oppressed would have to face the party first.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif called the murder “heinous and condemnable” and said such incidents “represent our collective failure and put our whole society to shame”.
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“No girl deserves to go through this. High time we thought why we continue to hit lows one after the other,” he tweeted.
The brutal murder of Hindu girl, Pooja Kumari, is most heinous & condemnable. Such heart-rending incidents represent our collective failure & put our whole society to shame. No girl deserves to go through this. High time we thought why we continue to hit lows one after the other.
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) March 22, 2022
Former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Raza Haroon was among those who demanded justice for the slain girl. He urged Bilawal Bhutto to take action, calling it the “worst form of human rights violation and persecution of religious minorities in Sindh”.
@BBhuttoZardari @BakhtawarBZ @AseefaBZ pls take time out from your busy schedule and look into this matter of grave concern, worst form of human rights violation and persecution of religious minorities in #Sindh where another young girl #PoojaKumari has been brutally murdered. https://t.co/RdBUsB0G1Z
— Raza Haroon رضا ہارون (@mrazaharoon) March 21, 2022
Activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir criticised the Sindh government, saying: “Under the PPP government, child marriage laws aren’t worth more than the paper they’re printed on.
“Doors to forced conversion of minor girls are open because child marriages are facilitated by corrupt and ignorant [officials],” he added.
Under #PPP Govt. Child Marriage laws aren't worth more than paper they're printed on. Doors to forced conversion of minor girls are open because Child Marriages are facilitated by corrupt & ignorant JoPs, Nikah Registrars, UCs & Police. #PoojaKumari a child had to defend her self pic.twitter.com/63iNI1aPhS
— M. Jibran Nasir 🇵🇸 (@MJibranNasir) March 22, 2022
Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai’s father Ziauddin called the murder “disgusting” and a “heinous crime”, adding that “we all must speak up to demand justice for the bravest Pooja Kumari.”
This is disgusting. Heinous crime indeed.
We all must speak up to demand justice for the bravest #PoojaKumari https://t.co/kgXceNA4st
— Ziauddin Yousafzai (@ZiauddinY) March 21, 2022
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Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Azad Marshall condemned Kumari’s killing and demanded justice for the family. He said that abduction and forced conversion of minority girls was one of the major issues warranting a serious and instant response from the State.
HUNDREDS OF QUESTIONABLE CONVERSIONS
Statistics, time and time again, denote the undeniable reality of forced conversions.
Every year, several girls belonging to minority communities, especially Hindus in Sindh and Christians in Punjab, are abducted and forcibly converted to Islam and married to their abductors.
Even though the government does not collect data on forced conversions, minority rights organisation Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) noted that around 162 questionable conversions had been reported in the media between 2013 and 2020 and abuses which had occurred in violation of religious freedom enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution of 1973.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in July 2021, noted forced conversions of girls from minority religions to be one of the serious human rights abuses that the Pakistani government needs to respond to urgently.
“The Pakistani authorities have shamefully failed to address repeated calls to curb the longstanding violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief,” it said.
In 2019, the Sindh government attempted to outlaw forced conversions and marriages for the second time, but the legislation was shelved after religious parties launched an agitation.