India, Pakistan spar over alleged religious conversion of Hindu girls

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Paris: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addresses the Indian diaspora at a reception organised in her honour, in Parison June 19, 2018. (Photo: IANS/MEA)

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – India and Pakistan are quarrelling over reports of an alleged kidnapping and religious conversion of two Hindu girls in mostly Muslim Pakistan last week.

The spat began on Sunday when India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that she had asked the country’s high commissioner in Islamabad to send a report on a news article on the allegations, a rare public intervention by a top Indian official in the neighbour’s domestic affairs.

Pakistani police said they had registered a complaint of kidnapping and robbery by the teenagers’ parents and that arrests could be made on Monday.

Pakistan’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the country was “totally behind the girls”, but asked Hindu-majority India to look after its own minority Muslims.

“Madam Minister, I am happy that in the Indian administration we have people who care for minority rights in other countries,” Chaudhry replied to Swaraj’s tweet.

“I sincerely hope that your conscience will allow you to stand up for minorities at home as well. Gujarat and Jammu must weigh heavily on your soul.”

Later in a press conference on Sunday, he referred to religious riots in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat in 2002 during which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. In Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, Pakistan accuses India of human rights violations, a charge New Delhi denies.

An Indian foreign ministry source cited three more instances of forceful marriages of Hindu or Sikh women in Pakistan in the past two years and said that the government had raised “intimidation of Sikhs, Hindus, and desecration of their places of worship” with Pakistan on various occasions.

The Indian government run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will seek a second term in a general election starting next month. Modi has taken a tougher stand towards Pakistan in the past five years.

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