Sindh's Stolen Brides
Hindus In Pakistan
Soon, a frisson of excitement sweeps through the throng, as a police van drives through the gate. Inside it is Mariam. She's 13 years old-and married! Mariam was Mashu, and Hindu, till the night of December 22, 2005. I pick my way through the jostling crowd. Mariam is in a red burqa, her gold nose ring sparkles. She tells me, "I'm happy. I don't want to return to my parents or brother." What's the fuss about, I wonder.
It's quite another story under the pipal tree of the court compound. Huddled under it are the villagers of Jhaluree, 20 km from Mirpur Khas. Among them is Mashu's father, Malo Sanafravo. He says that at 11 pm, December 22, four armed men barged into their room. One of them was Malo's neighbour, Akbar. They picked up Mashu, bundled her into the waiting car. "She was taken to Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi's village in Somarho tehsil." There Mashu became Mariam and was married to Akbar.
Not true, insists husband Akbar. "Mariam has been always in my heart," he gushes, saying, at 11 pm, December 22, it was she who had come over to his house. But it's true that the Pir converted her and married them-it was his idea that they issue statements in the court. "Mariam was sent to Darul Aman in Hyderabad, in judicial custody," Akbar declares.
A little later, there are celebrations as the word spreads: the court has allowed the couple to live together. Standing next to me is Kanjee Rano Bheel. He works for an NGO in the education sector; volunteers for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) as well. "In just two hours Mashu was converted and married," Kanjee says incredulously. Disappointment and helpless rage fleet across his face. "In Darul Aman the girls are kept away from parents and pressured into issuing statements favourable to the abductors. They tame stubborn girls through death threats."
So, was Mashu abducted and forcibly converted?
In Mirpur Khas, truth resembles the mirage of the surrounding Thar desert, teasing and tormenting me as I drive from Karachi into interior Sindh.