Pakistan’s Central Punjab, the hub of extremism, has again hit the headlines with the news that two Christian sisters have been kidnapped by a group of Muslims and forced to convert to Islam.
Rebbecca Masih and Saima Masih were kidnapped earlier this week in Jhung in the district of Faisalabad.
Rehmat Masih, their father, claims that an influential Muslim businessman, “supported by a banned extremist group” came to his place “several weeks ago with armed men and said he liked my daughters and wanted to marry them.
He added, “He said that if I refused the request, he would take away my daughters and forcefully convert them. I went to the City Police Station to file a complaint. They took my application, but didn’t take any action. I also sent a copy of the application to the Senior Superintendent Police, the Deputy Superintendent Police and the City Police Officer, but none have responded.”
Masih further said, “On Tuesday afternoon my daughters were coming back from the market when a vehicle owned by the businessman intercepted them and they were thrown into the vehicle and driven away.”
Rehmat Masih said he then rushed to the police station, but instead of helping, the officers alleged that his daughters might have “run away” from home.
The Station House Officer of the City Police Station said, “We had received the application from Rehmat Masih claiming that this businessman had threatened to kidnap his daughters and we have investigated the matter.
“He is a reputed businessman and he is being falsely accused. Whereas Rehmat Masih is a carpenter and his neighbors say that he gets drunk every night and starts assaulting his daughters and forces them into unethical activities, so they might have run away, being unable to bear the torture.”
However, Malik Shahid, a neighbor disputed the police claim saying, “I have known Rehmat Masih for the past 20 years. He has been living in the neighborhood and is a respectable person. I have never heard any harsh words from him nor have I ever seen him doing anything unethical.
“In fact this businessman is an influential person and we have seen him threatening Masih. The Police are twisting the matter as they cannot take any action against him as they are involved with him.”
On Wednesday, the Muslim businessman “forcefully” married Saima Masih in the presence of a Muslim cleric. In Islam if a woman of any other religion marries a Muslim, she embraces the religious faith of her husband and thus converts to Islam.
According to sources, this cleric has been an active member of the banned extremist group Sip-e-Sahaba and has been involved in kidnapping Christian and Hindu girls and forcefully converting them to Islam.
Rehmat Masih says that he has continued his visits the local police station but, he says, so far, they have refused to help and have told him to forget his daughters.
Masih said helplessly, “I have made appeals to the authorities in Jung, but they all have been bought, and instead of serving the Punjab government, they are the servants of the extremists groups.”
Haroon Barkat Masih, chairman of the Masihi Foundation, has condemned what has happened to the sisters.
“Kidnapping of Christian girls and forced marriages have become a common practice in Jhung and the surrounding areas,” he said. “Christian and Hindu girls are forced to marry the Muslims, which automatically converts them to Islam. The police and the local authorities are paid to take care of the official documentation, so no First Information Reports are registered.
“These officials are tools in the hands of the extremists. These areas are a safe haven for the extremists. Clerics openly talk about killing and kidnapping Christian girls in their Friday sermons. There are countless similar cases that go unregistered.
“We have talked to several Punjab Government officials, but unfortunately the local government supports these groups. The Masihi Foundation is building bonds between various communities, working towards a tolerant society where everyone can live in peace.”
Rodrick Sampson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan