Global Human Rights Defence

What happened to Pooja Oad in Pakistan?

What happened to Pooja Oad in Pakistan?
Pooja Oad. Source: Vice News/Pooja’s family. No Date.

Author: Fatima Orujova

Department: Pakistan Team

  1. Introduction

   Forced marriages and conversions have remained chronic issues within Pakistani society. It has been found that mainly minority women are kidnapped from their homes or schools and are held in madrassas – Muslim seminaries (Farrukh, 2022). They are often forced or persuaded to convert to Islam by perpetrators and thus, declare in the court that they entered into marriage based on their consent (Farrukh, 2022). 

   On average, it has been reported that there are thousands of cases in which minority, predominantly Hindu or Christian, women are abducted or murdered in the country every year. The number of such cases has particularly been high in Pakistan’s Sindh province, where the majority of Pakistan’s Hindu community members reside (The Print, 2022). The most recent case in which a minority woman in Pakistan was abducted and which drew the attention of local and international human rights activists was the murder of Pooja Oad, an 18-year-old Hindu girl, in the province of Sindh (Khan, 2022).

  1. What happened?

  On March 21st, 2022, Pooja Oad was murdered by Wahid Bux Lashari as she rejected his demands to convert to Islam and marry him (Janjua, 2022; Sharma, 2022). Pooja was the eldest daughter of a middle-class Hindu family, living in the city of Sukkur, in the Sindh province, and used to look after her younger sisters whilst her parents worked (Janjua, 2022; Khan, 2022). At the beginning of March, a Muslim man from an influential family in the province, Wahid Bux Lashari started disturbing Pooja, demanding her marry him and convert to Islam. Pooja continuously rejected his requests and talked to her family about this (Farrukh, 2022; Khan, 2022). The perpetrator had told Pooja that he would come again after her and called her several times on the phone, disturbing her with those demands (Samoon, 2022). Thus, Pooja talked about this to her family. Her father asked the local feudal lords to help him prevent the harassment of his daughter and reported the issue to the local police (Farrukh, 2022; Khan, 2022). Yet, the police did not investigate the issue (Janjua, 2022).

  Two weeks later, Pooja was shot dead in the street by Wahid Bux Lashari. On March 21st, 2022, the perpetrator and two other men broke into Pooja’s house and ordered her to marry him again (Samoon, 2022). He turned more aggressive when Pooja rejected his order again      and thus, opened fire on her, resulting in her death (Deccan Chronicle, 2022). The perpetrator

escaped the crime scene after committing the murder (The New Indian Express, 2022).      Pooja’s family demanded immediate imprisonment and a speedy trial of the perpetrator (Samoon, 2022). On March 22nd, 2022, the local police arrested Lashari and two other perpetrators a day after the crime and issued them to a local court (Khan, 2022; The New Indian Express, 2022). 

  1. Response by the Civil Society and the Government 

   The family of Pooja has held protests and has called for stricter judicial action against the perpetrator (India TV, 2022). The incident, in general, sparked outrage, particularly on social media, in which the hashtag “#JusticeForPoojaKumari” became a trend in the region (India TV, 2022). Social media users have called for the protection of minorities in the country and have stated that if the government does not take any action, there will be more and more similar cases (Geo TV, 2022; India TV, 2022). Human rights activists, as well as Aurat March organisers, condemned the lack of legislation protecting minority rights and the fact that many lawyers in the country refuse to work on such cases because of the fear of being threatened by influential families of the perpetrators (Times of Update, 2022). According to activists in the country, the reluctance of lawyers to support victims and their families facing these issues and the consequent absence of legal counsel for them have deteriorated the situation in Pakistan (Times of Update, 2022).

   Human rights activists have also criticised the lack of action taken by the administration of the former Prime Minister, Imran Khan (Vidyashree, 2022). Whilst a law criminalising forced conversions was introduced in 2019, it was not enacted because of the influence of Islamist groups (OpIndia, 2022). Furthermore, in October 2021, a committee in the Pakistani National Assembly rejected an anti-forced conversions bill as the Ministry of Religious Affairs opposed the proposal (Janjua, 2022). Additionally, in 2016, the province of Sindh passed a bill criminalising forced conversions, and yet, the governor of the province refused the enactment of the legislation (Janjua, 2022). Besides, in 2019, for the second time, the government of the province of Sindh took action to outlaw forced marriages and conversions, however, they did not finalise the step due to the opposition of some Islamist groups (ABP News, 2022).

     Human rights activists have also stated that political parties in the country are often reluctant to bring the issue to the parliamentary agenda as they fear the opposition of strong religious groups (Farrukh, 2022). Yet, Syed Zain Shah, the leader of the Sindh United Party, a nationalist political party of the province, has stated that “If the police had taken pre-emptive measures, Pooja Kumari might not have suffered death at the hands of her tormentor because her parents had already indicated to police about the alleged killers” (Farrukh, 2022).

  1. Conclusion

     Forced abductions and marriages will continue to be a long-term issue in Pakistan if the absence of bolstered steps at the governmental level carries on. Such cases have remained stable instead of diminishing over the past few years. Despite local and international civil society pressures, Pakistani authorities continue neglecting these issues at both provincial and federal levels. Undeniably, there is an urgent need for policies and clear-cut actions by the government protecting women in Pakistan. Yet, the Pakistani government also has to specifically adopt a bill criminalising forced abductions of women as well as their forced conversions. 

       Moreover, the Pakistani government has to require local police to carefully approach cases of forced abductions and thoroughly support victims and their families even though perpetrators come from influential families in the country. One way to achieve this would be providing local police forces with training programmes on religious and ethnic diversity in the country. However, adoption of such policies and laws does not seem plausible in today’s Pakistan where the emphasis at the state and community levels on Islam is on rise and where Islamic religious groups are quite influential when it comes to agenda-setting and policymaking. The strategies and views of the administration of the newly appointed Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, regarding these issues, have remained unknown until now.  

Bibliography

ABP News. (2022, March 22). Pakistan: 18-Yr-Old Hindu Girl Shot Dead After Failed Abduction Attempt. ABP News. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from http://ra.rferl.org/a/pakistani-schoolteacher-blasphemy-vigilantes/31779969.html 

Deccan Chronicle. (2022, March 22). Man who killed Hindu girl in Pak wanted to marry her after conversion. Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://deccan.news/man-who-killed-hindu-girl-in-pak-wanted-to-marry-her-after-conversion/

Geo TV. (2022. March 23). Sukkur man arrested for shooting dead young Hindu woman. Geo TV. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://www.geo.tv/latest/406891-sukkur-man-arrested-for-shooting-dead-young-hindu-woman

Farrukh, R. (2022, March 31). She Died Resisting an Abduction. Hundreds Like Her Are Forced Into Marriage. Vice News. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvna9z/pooja-kumari-killed-abduction-forced-marriages-hindu-girls-pakistan

India TV. (2022, March 22). Man who killed Hindu girl in Pakistan’s Sindh province, wanted to marry her after conversion. India TV. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/muslim-man-killed-hindu-girl-in-pakistan-sindh-province-failed-abduction-wanted-to-marry-her-religion-conversion-2022-03-22-765450 

Janjua, H. (2022, March 31).  Pakistan: Hindu girl’s killing reignites forced conversion fears.   Al Jazeera. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/31/pakistan-hindu-girls-killing-reignites-forced-conversion-fears

Khan, M., H. (2022, March 22). Teenage Hindu girl shot dead in Sukkur, suspect arrested. The Dawn. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://www.dawn.com/news/1681290/teenage-hindu-girl-shot-dead-in-sukkur-suspect-arrested 

OpIndia. (2022, March 22). Pakistan: 18-year-old Hindu girl Pooja Oad shot dead in the middle of the road for resisting an abduction attempt. OpIndia. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.opindia.com/2022/03/pakistan-hindu-girl-pooja-oad-shot-dead-resisting-abduction/

Samoon, H. (2022, March 23). Slain Hindu Girl Pooja Kumari’s Family Seeks Death Penalty For Her Killers. The Friday Times. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.thefridaytimes.com/2022/03/23/slain-hindu-girl-pooja-kumaris-family-seeks-death-penalty-for-her-killers/

Sharma, N. (2022, March 22). Hindu woman killed in Pakistan after refusal to convert. People want ‘justice for Pooja’. The Print. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://theprint.in/go-to-pakistan/hindu-woman-killed-in-pakistan-after-refusal-to-convert-people-want-justice-for-pooja/883333/

The New Indian Express. (2022, March 23). Man arrested for killing Hindu girl during abduction attempt in Pakistan: Report. The New Indian Express. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2022/mar/23/man-arrested-for-killing-hindu-girl-during-abduction-attempt-in-pakistan-report-2433409.html 

The Print. (2022, March 22). Hindu girl shot dead during abduction attempt in Pakistan: Report. The Print. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://theprint.in/world/hindu-girl-shot-dead-during-abduction-attempt-in-pakistan-report/882741/

Vidyashree, S. (2022, March 22). ‘This is just one case…’ | Pak Activist Slams ‘lawlessness’ In Imran Khan Govt, Claims ‘minorities Being Targeted’. Republic TV. Retrieved 19 April, 2022 from https://theprint.in/world/hindu-girl-shot-dead-during-abduction-attempt-in-pakistan-report/882741/

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