STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST HINDUS OF PAKISTAN

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Interview 3:POOJA BAI LOHANO

Name: POOJA BAI LOHANO
Age: 16 years 8 months
(at abduction in January 2014)
Date: 1 March 2015
Location: Sanghar
 

This interview was given by POOJA BAI's brother DILIP KUMAR LOHANO. Reason? Pooja was still held captive by the kidnapper -- for more than a year-- at a madrassa (Islamic religious school) in Karachi, about 298 km away by road.

Dilip says the kidnapping occurred on 16 January, 2014, at around 12.15 pm. He discovered his sister had been abducted at around 1.30 pm. She was on the way to a tailor's shop in Sanghar when she was grabbed and pulled into a passing tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw).

He initiated a search but had no luck.

He even approached the local Sanghar Hindu Association to assist in the search.

He kept searching for FOUR days.

Dilip's family suspected who the kidnapper could have been. They called him but he did not reveal anything at that point-of-time.

It is critical for you, the reader, to take note that Pooja was a 16-plus-year-old girl at the time of abduction.

The then suspect's (later confirmed as kidnapper) name is GHAR ALI YOUSAFZAI.

Dilip says this man had been trying to befriend his sister for several months prior to the abduction. This is why the family had suspected Yousafzai.

Pakistani newspaper DAILY TIMES reported 5 February, 2014, that she had actually earlier tied a colourful band on his wrist, called Rakhi. In Sindhi Hindu custom, the tying of Rakhi signifies the girl declaring the boy as her brother. [   VIEW ARTICLE ]

The family filed an FIR on the fifth day.                                                          

The police initially questioned Yousafzai's friends. That is how they discovered that he was the kidnapper.

Next, they went to the kidnapper's home but no men were seen there.

Eventually, it was Yousafzai himself who informed the family that Pooja was at the Jama Binoria Masjid in Karachi. This is a large madrassa, with over  3,000 male and 500 female students.

Dilip says that the police appeared unwilling to proactively help his family. This is substantially because of a pro-Islamic, anti-Hindu mindset that has permeated the institutions of the state of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This "mindset" problem has already been explained in the previous interviews.

The same Daily Times article hints that Yousafzai is also politically-connected and has influence in the police. He is a member of political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and is a "close relative" of the Deputy Inspector General (Police) at  Mirpur Khas (a neighbouring district).

So, the odds were heavily stacked against the Lohano family right from the very start, with or without the "mindset problem".

It, however, seems that it is this "mindset problem" -- above anything else -- that is endangering the safety of the Hindu community. There are other factors as well, which will be discussed later.

But, based on this writer's understanding, this "mindset problem" has become institutionalized in the state machinery.

The police approached Yousafzai's friends and searched his house only after the local Hindu Association applied pressure on them.

The interview with Dilip occurred 13-plus-months after the kidnapping.

The family has not been able to meet Pooja alone since the abduction: all meetings have occurred in the presence of kidnapper or his accomplices, for 2-3 minutes each time.

This means the kidnapper does not allow the family to meet their daughter alone.

The kidnapper claims he has married Pooja and that she has voluntarily converted to Islam. So, on basis of this "claim", the court allows the abductor to control the victim's interaction with her birth family.

What does this reveal to you about the local justice system? What does this reveal about the MINDSET of the judiciary? Think about these questions carefully.

Once again note, Pooja was below 17-years at time of abduction. The minimum legal age for marriage in Pakistan is 18. She was below 18 even at the time of the interview.

On this basis alone, the court should have ordered the madrassa to release Pooja and have the kidnapper and his accomplices arrested.

But, as seen in the example of Nela Kohli, the kidnapper has produced fake documentation to show that Pooja is "above" the legal age for marriage.

Dilip says Pooja was born in 1997. The fake documentation shows she was born in 1994. The court has chosen to believe the documentation produced by Yousafzai is genuine whereas it has taken the view that the family's papers are fake!!

This readiness of Pakistani courts towards accepting the abductors' documentation as genuine while rejecting the family's has been seen in the other interviews in this Report and in other cases as well.

This Report has included a series of articles covering victims RINKLE KUMARI and ANJALI MEGHWAR . The writer did not interview these two victims but the articles do clearly highlight this malfunctioned mindset of the judiciary.

Anjali's situation is unimaginably shocking: she was 12-years-old when abducted in October, 2014. A medical report was shown to the court to confirm Anjali was below 13-years.  She had been "married off" and "converted" within hours of abduction.

Yet, the judge refused to annul the illegal marriage, reverse the "conversion" and return the child to her parents. She was instead sent to a shelter home. Her abductor roams the streets a free man whereas Anjali's family has had to flee their hometown out of fear of reprisals against them.

The readiness of the Pakistani courts to accept the "fake" documentation of the kidnappers' and, in the same breath, reject the family's, is again indicative of the pro-Islamic, anti-Hindu mindset.

It also may be indicative that judges are fearful of attracting retribution of extremist Islamic elements if their actions were perceived as being friendly towards the Hindu (or non-Muslim) community.

A Pakistani minister was assassinated several years ago because he spoke against the country's Blasphemy Law, a statute which discriminates against the minority-religion communities.

Meanwhile, Pooja's abductor Yousafzai has opened a case against Dilip's family, presumably on same grounds Akbar opened a case against Nela's family and Imran opened on Chandervati's family.

The writer has attached a series of articles from a diversity of local and foreign sources that reveal kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh is an ENDEMIC PROBLEM.

Therefore, how can a judge in Sindh NOT EXERCISE CAUTION when a case of this exact type is brought before him?

A judge worthy of his title will always take steps to ascertain whether the documentation used as "evidence" is authentic, especially in a society where fake paper is easy to obtain.

How is it even thinkable that a suspect kidnapper can be given benefit of doubt? The writer repeats: THIS WAS NOT AN ISOLATED CASE. Local newspaper articles say at least 20 cases of kidnappings are reported each month

HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT A JUDGE OF THE SINDH COURT BE UNAWARE THAT THIS SICKNESS PREVAILS  IN THE PROVINCE HE HAS BEEN ASSIGNED TO SERVE?

These kidnappings are symptomatic that something is wrong in society. And, if this is the situation, a proper judge, worthy of his job title, will exercise sensitivity and care towards victims and, at the same time, exhibit severe firmness towards suspected kidnappers.

But this did not happen in Nela's case. It did not happen in Chandervati's case. It has not happened in just about every case this writer has researched into.  

This shows the sickness has permeated the so-called "independent" judiciary as well.

This is why Pooja is still at the madrassa. She is a victim of a discriminatory and corrupt system.

Commonsense dictates it is UNSAFE for a woman to be alone in a madrassa populated  with thousands of male students, where males outnumber females six-to-one, where they receive an education mainly in Islamic Studies and Arabic.

The writer dares take a view that these men will not be endowed with modern-age vocational skills and will thus find it an uphill task to attract a girl as wife. Many are therefore likely to be sexually frustrated. Therefore, an "infidel" woman on her own in such an environment, is an easy target for abuse.

Yet, the judge has allowed her kidnapper to "keep" her. It also shows, in the eyes of a Muslim judge or court, a "kafir's" (infidel's) life is not worthy of respect. Hindus are deemed as infidels in the eyes of Pakistani Muslims. Pakistani school text books institutionalize this thinking.

Also, note,  if Yousafzai's claim that he is married to her is genuine, why is she still held at the madrassa?

NOTE: Pooja has NOT declared to the court that she was kidnapped.

To understand why, recall it was earlier stated that Pooja was only allowed to meet her family in the presence of the kidnapper for only for 2-3 minutes.

This means Pooja is under the scrutiny of her kidnapper.

Now, combine this with the fact that she is alone (without family or loved ones) at the madrassa.

The writer takes the view (based on conversations with locals monitoring such cases), she is probably too frightened to speak her "true mind" to the judge.

She is likely FRIGHTENED OF RETRIBUTION at the madrassa if she speaks the truth.

The writer will quote an editorial from local newspaper DAILY TIMES:

"A new report  by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan has released some very distressing numbers -- as many as 1, 000 girls, aged from 12 to 25, 70 percent of them Hindu and 30 percent of them Christian, are abducted every year, forcefully converted to Islam by their captors, married off to these men who usually rape them and, at times, also force them into prostitution and human trafficking."

The same editorial continues:

"The report documents that when the families of the victims do register an FIR and the case goes to court, the girl -- traumatized and held hostage by her abductor,  who is usually by now parading himself as her 'husband' -- is too scared to admit she is a victim and the whole case falls flat. If she does retaliate, she may very well be hurt or even murdered by said 'husband'. "

The editorial goes on to say:

"The accused lay blame on the families, saying they are intervening in the wilful conversion of their daughters, wanting nothing more than to reconvert them. One can easily see the games the captors are playing. The truly tragic aspect of this whole drama is that there is just no redress for these poor souls in the judicial system of this country. Such cases often see the victims give in to intimidation, rendering them forever apart from their families that can find no law that will side with them. No one listens and no one is willing to protect these vulnerable girls from such vicious predators." [   VIEW ARTICLE ]

The writer makes clear he did not ask Dilip whether his sister had been raped because he did not wish to distress him severely at the interview. Nor did he wish to disrespect him by asking this question.

Pooja, however, did tell her brother she craves to return home, when she met him at court for a few minutes. The writer assumes the kidnapper's men were nearby.

The first court hearing was held in April, 2014. Pooja was not present.

Pooja was only produced at court several months later.

Pooja met her family around October-November 2014. The writer does not know how many meetings Pooja has had with her family.

After about one-year of the kidnapping, the court gave decision that the kidnapper's documentation is GENUINE and the (under-age) Pooja is "ready" to marry Yousafzai.

Pooja's family was not present at this hearing.

In short, the Pakistani judicial system has literally handed over Pooja to the kidnapper, to live a life at his whim and mercy.

Note, Dilip is a salesman at a small shop in Sanghar, a small town in a district of the same name. Dilip and his family are poor and cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

On the other hand, we can assume Yousafzai enjoys at least limited access to the financial resources of the Binoria madrassa. Many madrassas in Pakistan are financed by oil-rich Gulf Arab countries.

So, to start with, it is a lopsided fight because of the mindset of the judiciary and the kidnapper's strong connections. The abuse is further turned against the Lohano family because they cannot afford a lawyer.

It has already been explained that girls from lower-caste Hindu families are "attractive" targets for kidnappers, for the very reason because they are poor. Therefore, they lack the resources and knowhow to fight back within a system that has already been institutionalized against minority communities.

Respected Qatar-based news service provider Al Jazeera reported on 18 August, 2014:

"... the lower tier of the [Pakistani Muslim] police force is not sensitized to the discrimination faced by the Hindus."

Sindh's  HIGHEST-RANKING POLICE OFFICIAL  SHARJEEL KHARRAL was quoted in the same article, saying:

"It's true they [the police] don't prioritise the[Hindu]  community without pressure from the media or civil society."

The article added:

"Kharral said Hindus in Pakistan are a scared and vulnerable minority and forced conversion is an example of their vulnerability, especially when it occurs to their women."  [   VIEW ARTICLE ]

Dilip says his sister has so far refused to accept Islam. He knows this because he spoke with her via phone a month earlier (late January or early February). She pleaded her brother to save her. She does not have any means of escape.

Outsiders have not been allowed to enter the madrassa to speak with her.

A Sindhi-language Muslim journalist who was present at the interview explained that, in Pakistan, it is very difficult for a government authority to challenge the decision of a religious leader or madrassa, if either declares that a non-Muslim has converted to Islam. In other words, the conversion is final and irrevocable regardless how the outcome was achieved.

This editor added, "Their (religious leaders and madrassas) licence, their signature, their word on this subject is FINAL, above the law."

In conclusion, Dilip seems to be losing hope that his sister will be rescued.

With this interview, he is appealing to the international community for help.

Click here to Continue > Interview #4

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