The circumstances surrounding a Kalash girl Reena’s conversion to Islam and retraction are a matter of serious concern. According to media reports, the girl, a minor of 14 years of age, from a Kalash tribe in Chitral’s Bamburate Valley embraced Islam “under the guidance” of a local Muslim, and left her home to live with that man’s family in the same village.
It is a matter of guess what kind of guidance he might have been giving a girl-child to renounce her faith and family to come and be part of his household. But he surely committed three wrongs: one, making an underage person make a decision the implications of which she may not have fully understood; second, as a ‘na mahram’ he violated social as well as religious norms in having her stay in his home; third, he caused deep hurt and a feeling of powerlessness to a minority community family.
Underage people are prone to make decisions that they may regret or disown later. That is what happened in this case too. Reena went back on her decision to return to her family, but a group of villagers, apparently instigated by the ‘guidance giver’, marched on to the Kalash quarter to forcefully recover the ‘Muslim girl’ from the ‘infidel’ tribe, creating a situation where the police had to resort to teargas shelling to restore order.
The incident is just one more dangerous example of people using religion for personal interests. There have been a number of cases in Sindh of controversial conversions of Hindu girls to marry Muslim men.
In the present case, since the situation had turned into a law and order problem the administration intervened and held a jirga of elders from both communities. Following an agreement on that the girl’s statement would be accepted, she was presented before a judicial magistrate where she formally stated that she was not forced to convert to Islam.
According to the administration, her family and the Kalash community accepted her statement, adding that “it is now up to the girl to decide whether she lives with her Kalash family or the Muslim community”.
That does not resolve the issue; in fact it justifies the majority community’s behaviour. Administration officials surely are aware that being a minor the concerned person is in no position to make a life changing decision; reason suggests it should be up to the family to make that decision for her.
The government at the higher level must intervene and ensure the Kalash people do not feel threatened from self-styled propagators of Islam.