Sikhs in Delhi, India, held a large protest rally outside the Pakistani embassy on Monday to protest the forced conversion of minorities to Islam.
The angry demonstrators overwhelmed police barricades and burned effigies of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The demonstrators carried banners denouncing the “forced conversion of minorities to Islam” and demanding protection for the rights of all religious minorities in Pakistan. The incidents that incited the demonstration involved two young girls who were allegedly forcibly converted to Islam so they could be married to Muslim men.
One of the victims was the 19-year-old daughter of a Sikh cleric who was allegedly kidnapped and forced to convert at gunpoint before her wedding. The girl has said she converted and married her Muslim husband willingly and does not want to return home because she fears for her life, but the Sikh community believes she is still acting under coercion.
Videos of both her family demanding justice for her abduction and the girl claiming she became Muslim voluntarily became viral sensations in India, creating a political firestorm at a time of great tension between India and Pakistan over the contested province of Kashmir.
The other victim was a Hindu college student said to have been abducted from her campus by her Muslim boyfriend and forced to convert. Local police say they are still investigating the case and have not concluded whether she was taken by force or left with her boyfriend voluntarily. Indian media almost invariably refers to both cases as unambiguous abductions and forced conversions.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan promised the Worldwide Sikh Conference in Islamabad on Tuesday that the rights of Sikhs would be protected, especially pilgrims traveling to the holy cities of Kartapur and Nankana Sahib, which he acknowledged are as important to Sikhs as Mecca and Medina are to Muslims.
Kartapur is a city founded by the first guru of the Sikh religion, Nanak Dev, while Nankana Sahib is his birthplace. 2019 marks the 550th anniversary of his birth. Pakistan has been working on infrastructure upgrades to allow more pilgrims to visit Kartapur
“This is not a favor. This is our duty,” said Khan.
Monday’s protesters at the Pakistani embassy in Delhi apparently did not find Khan’s reassurances convincing, since they burned him in effigy and demanded a more firm commitment from the Pakistani government to protect the safety and religious freedom of minorities. Similar demonstrations were held by other Sikh communities, often accompanied by demands for the Pakistani government to return the forcibly converted girls to their families.