When 15-year-old Poonam Wasu — a Hindu girl from birth — left her house with friends on the afternoon of October 6, she could never have in her wildest dreams imagined that she would be drugged, only to wake up hours later as a married Muslim woman named Razia.
Although there are no official figures as cases of forced conversions and marriages are often hushed up, organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan believe that a large number of women had been abducted and forced to change their religion. Perhaps an even more distressing fact is that in many such instances, these women are sold to prostitution rings and as a result, lose all contact with their families.
But unlike the other women who chose to remain quiet after being threatened with dire consequences, Poonam broke the silence and took matters to court. Hailing from Lyari — where locals claim that as many as sixteen women have been abducted and forced to marry — Razia remains undaunted by the threats.
Talking about the fateful day that changed her life forever, this lean-framed girl recalls that she left her house with two friends named Saiba and Shazia, who asked her to apply some Mehndhi to relatives at a wedding. After she reached the house and sipped at the tea served to her, the rest was a blank.
“After drinking it, I fell unconscious. I don’t remember what happened after that. All I know is that when I woke up, I was a woman who has accepted Islam and performed a Nikkah with my friend’s brother, Raza Hussain, who I had never even spoken to before.”
Poonam added that she had known both the sisters for several months as one of them attended the same school as one of her siblings. Also, they would visit the same beauty parlour that Poonam would sometimes work for. “I never thought these two girls would do something like this. Both of them were so nice to me,” said the distressed teenager.
While Poonam was being drugged and forced to marry after changing her religion, back at her house, the hours ticked by and her family naturally became worried. “When it turned dark and my niece did not return, we went to her friend’s house, only to find that the door had been locked.”
The teenager’s family had registered FIR 166/2011, under section 365 at the Chakiwara police station and the law enforcers conducted a raid and recovered the abducted girl, who according to her aunt was drowsy and stumbled as she walked.
Showing the blue-inked print on her thumb, Poonam says that although the conversion certificate and the Nikkahnama have her imprints, she was unaware of what was happening with her. “Why would I put a thumb print on the documents when I can write my name in both Urdu and English?” she asked. “I was unconscious when my prints were taken. Neither have I changed my religion, nor have I married anyone.”
And that is exactly what she told the District Court South during the hearing of her case. She now hopes that the court will rule in her favour and yearns to be reunited with her family.
Taking notice of the incident, the Sindh Vice Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amarnath Motumal, said, “Most of the time, criminals involved in kidnapping and forced conversion are influential and wealthy. Consequently, the victim is warned of dire consequences if she dares raise her voice. Therefore, many cases go unreported and other times, the families surrender. But Poonam is very brave and despite threats to her family that the teenager would be killed, she has decided to fight for her rights.”
The same stance is reiterated by Poonam. “My so-called husband should be severely punished. Why do people do such things? Thank God I was saved in the nick of time as I came to know later that my kidnappers were planning to shift me to another location. If they succeeded, I would have never seen my family again.”