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Death Toll in Central African Republic Church Attack Rises to 26 — BCNN1 WP

The number of people confirmed dead in a gun and grenade attack on a church in Bangui, Central African Republic, has risen to 26.

via Death Toll in Central African Republic Church Attack Rises to 26 — BCNN1 WP


what would earth be in 500 years ahead

What will Earth look like in 500 years?

What will the 26th century look like?
What will the 26th century look like?
If you could travel back in time five centuries, you’d encounter a thriving Aztec empire in Central Mexico, a freshly painted “Mona Lisa” in Renaissance Europe and cooler temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. This was a world in the midst of the Little Ice Age (A.D. 1300 to 1850) and a period of vast European exploration now known as the Age of Discovery.

But what if we could look 500 years into the future and glimpse the Earth of the 26th century? Would the world seem as different to us as the 21st century would have seemed to residents of the 16th century? For starters, what will the weather be like?


Depending on whom you ask, the 26th century will either be a little chilly or infernally hot. Some solar output models suggest that by the 2500s, Earth’s climate will have cooled back down to near Little Ice Age conditions [source: Perry]. Other studies predict that ongoing climate change and fossil fuel use will render much of the planet too hot for human life by 2300 [source: AFP].

Some experts date the beginning of human climate change back to the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, others to slash-and-burn agricultural practices in prehistoric times. Either way, tool-wielding humans alter their environment — and our 26th century tools might be quite impressive indeed.

Theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku predicts that in a mere 100 years, humanity will make the leap from a type zero civilization to a type I civilization on the Kardashev Scale. In other words, we’ll become a species that can harness the entire sum of a planet’s energy. Wielding such power, 26th-century humans will be masters of clean energy technologies such as fusion and solar power. Furthermore, they’ll be able to manipulate planetary energy in order to control global climate. Physicist Freeman Dyson, on the other hand, estimates the leap to a type I civilization would occur within roughly 200 years.

Technology has improved exponentially since the 1500s, and this pace will likely continue in the centuries to come. Physicist Stephen Hawking proposes that by the year 2600, this growth would see 10 new theoretical physics papers published every 10 seconds. If Moore’s Law holds true and both computer speed and complexity double every 18 months, then some of these studies may be the work of highly intelligent machines.

What other technologies will shape the world of the 26th century? Futurist and author Adrian Berry believes the average human life span will reach 140 years and that the digital storage of human personalities will enable a kind of computerized immortality. Humans will farm the oceans, travel in starships and reside in both lunar and Martian colonies while robots explore the outer cosmos.

Where will we go from there? Explore the links on the next page for even more predictions about Earth’s long-term future.


The Theory of Everything — more than Stephen Hawking’s story
Ann HornadayUpdated November 14, 2014 Facebook Count
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Although the awards race officially gets started in early September, when spiffed-up contenders make their debuts in film festivals from Venice to Telluride to Toronto, Academy Award season doesn’t get underway in earnest until the polished, anthemic biopics start showing up in theatres. The Theory of Everything, a stirring if conveniently cosmeticised portrait of physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane, is such a classic example of Oscar bait that it might as well have arrived with a subtitle attached: “And They’re Off!” To its credit, though, this handsome, ultimately very moving drama winds up subtly upending as many genre conventions as it obeys.

Based on Jane Hawking’s memoir ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen’, The Theory of Everything doesn’t dwell too long on Hawking’s most famous intellectual achievements; for brainy disquisitions on space-time singularities and black holes, there’s always Interstellar, which derives scientific footing from the work of Hawking’s colleague Kip Thorne. Rather than a Beautiful Mind-ish portrait of a thinker battling disability, film-maker James Marsh has created a spirited, affecting meditation on marriage, specifically how Hawking’s affliction with a brutally degenerative disease and Jane’s mostly unflinching support and motivation throughout its worst predations resulted in a relationship that, while far from ideal, bears celebrating, if not emulating entirely.

The Theory of Everything begins in the early 1960s, when Hawking — played by Eddie Redmayne — is a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, and when he meets Jane (Felicity Jones), who’s studying mediaeval Spanish poetry. Gawky and bespectacled, full of stumbles and fumbles, Hawking takes a severe fall one day and can’t get up: soon thereafter, he’s diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and told he has two years to live. After Hawking descends into an understandable depression, Jane shows up to insist that he snap out of it. The two begin to date despite the fact that she’s a devout Christian (Church of England) and he’s an outspoken atheist who has just “a slight problem with the celestial dictator premise”. (When Stephen asks Jane out on a Sunday morning and she delicately tells him she’s usually busy then, he immediately twigs that he has a formidable rival. “Oh,” he responds knowingly. “Him”.)

Directed with graceful vibrancy by Marsh from a script by Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything initially has all the markings of the kind of valourising cine-biography of the safest, most conventional kind. Redmayne, submerging his fashion-model looks under a performance of remarkable physical and facial contortion, lends winsome charm to a character who, in real life, has often been described as prickly and difficult. And there’s no doubt that the film-makers have smoothed out some of the most problematic contours of the Hawkings’ marriage — which ended in 1995 — in the name of all-important audience “relatability”. (The fact that Hawking comes off so sympathetically in the film might explain why he allowed his real-life mechanised voice to be used in the film after Redmayne’s character receives a tracheotomy in 1985.)

But even with those liberties, The Theory of Everything succeeds as something deeper and more complex than facile great-man portraiture. Although Redmayne’s vulnerable impishness and playful charm virtually erase Hawking’s real-life shortcomings, they’re still evident, especially when, as he grows more and more dependent on Jane, his demands begin to seem increasingly peevish and cruel. Redmayne is understandably getting most of the accolades for an excruciatingly demanding physical performance that also manages to be surprising expressive. But Jones deserves just as much credit for her less showy but more technically tricky portrayal of a woman who, far from being a traditional self-sacrificing helpmeet, is trying to reconcile her Christian conscience and conjugal devotion with her own academic career and evolving physical and spiritual needs.

At its best, The Theory of Everything portrays its central love story not as the stuff of soap-opera melodrama or zero-sum ultimatums, but as a relationship between recognisably imperfect adults, fraught with many familiar complications, contingencies, flaws and fatal setbacks. Marsh, best known for his sublime 2008 documentary Man on Wire and making his narrative feature debut here, evinces the same penchant for delicacy and lyricism during the denouement of the Hawkings’ marriage as he does during the idyllic first days of their romance. A stunning third-act sequence, when the director briefly sets the characters free from the literalness that binds them, isn’t just a bold visual move, but elevates the story that’s gone before. The Theory of Everything achieves its uplift by acknowledging that uplift isn’t always possible, at least in the strictest sense: It’s an exceptional film, not because of its protagonists’ impressive triumphs, but because it honours their struggle.

—By arrangement with The Washington Post


Stephen Hawking reveals trials, triumphs in new film of his life
AFPSeptember 21, 2013 Facebook Count
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LONDON: Cosmologist Stephen Hawking tells the extraordinary tale of how he overcame severe disability to become the most famous living scientist in a new documentary film premiered in Britain on Thursday.

“This film is a personal journey through my life,” the 71-year-old Briton said in the trailer to “Hawking”, which he co-wrote and narrated in his distinctive, computer-generated voice.

He adds: “I have lived five decades longer than doctors predicted. I have tried to make good use of my time.”The film tells in Hawking’s own words and those of his family and friends how a bright student with a fondness for partying became a pre-eminent physicist who has helped unlock the secrets of the universe, from the Big Bang to black holes.

He brought the wonders of the cosmos to millions of people through his lectures and bestselling book, “A Brief History of Time”, becoming a household name who even starred in “The Simpsons”. All this was achieved despite being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, when he was just 21, and being told he had only a few years to live.

“Although I have been successful in my work, my life has had its fair share of challenges,” Hawking says.

The film goes back to Hawking’s childhood and his student days before the ALS began to attack the nerves controlling his voluntary movement, confining him to a wheelchair and forcing him to speak through a machine.

It features interviews with his family, including his first wife Jane Wilde, with whom he had three children. “Falling in love gave me something to live for,” Hawking says.

And it follows him as he travels around the world giving lectures about space and time, refusing to give in to the disease which has locked his mind inside his body.

“Because every day could be my last, I have the desire to make the most of each and every minute,” he says.

Director Stephen Finnegan told AFP that he wanted to create an “intimate portrait” of the scientist’s life.

“He’s notoriously not wanted to talk about his private life, he’s been very guarded,” explained Finnegan. “I wanted to give him a chance to have a voice.”The 90-minute film had its world premiere at the SXSW festival in Texas in March, but the scientist himself attended the first British screening on Thursday in Cambridge.

Hawking has spent his career at the University of Cambridge, where he was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1979 to 2009, a post previously held by Isaac Newton.


Is Hawking right about aliens?
Alok JhaMay 01, 2010 Facebook Count
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IN February 2008, Nasa sent the Beatles song, Across the Universe, across the universe. Pointing the telescopes in its Deep Space Network towards the north star, Polaris, astronomers played out their short cosmic DJ set, hoping that it might be heard by intelligent aliens during its 430-year journey to the star.

The hunt for intelligent species outside Earth may be a staple of literature and film – but it is happening in real life, too. Nasa probes are on the lookout for planets outside our solar system, and astronomers are carefully listening for any messages being beamed through space. How awe-inspiring it would be to get confirmation that we are not alone in the universe, to finally speak to an alien race. Wouldn’t it?

Well no, according to the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking. “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” Hawking says in a forthcoming documentary made for the Discovery Channel. He argues that, instead of trying to find and communicate with life in the cosmos, humans would be better off doing everything they can to avoid contact.

Hawking believes that, based on the sheer number of planets that scientists know must exist, we are not the only life-form in the universe. There are, after all, billions and billions of stars in our galaxy alone, with, it is reasonable to expect, an even greater number of planets orbiting them. And it is not unreasonable to expect some of that alien life to be intelligent, and capable of interstellar communication. So, when someone with Hawking’s knowledge of the universe advises against contact, it’s worth listening, isn’t it?

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the Seti Institute in California, the world’s leading organisation searching for telltale alien signals, is not so sure.

“This is an unwarranted fear,” Shostak says. “If their interest in our planet is for something valuable that our planet has to offer, there’s no particular reason to worry about them now. If they’re interested in resources, they have ways of finding rocky planets that don’t depend on whether we broadcast or not. They could have found us a billion years ago.”

If we were really worried about shouting in the stellar jungle, Shostak says, the first thing to do would be to shut down the BBC, NBC, CBS and the radars at all airports. Those broadcasts have been streaming into space for years – the oldest is already more than 80 light years from Earth – so it is already too late to stop passing aliens watching every episode of Big Brother or What Katie and Peter Did Next.

The biggest and most active hunt for life outside Earth started in 1960, when Frank Drake pointed the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia towards the star Tau Ceti. He was looking for anomalous radio signals that could have been sent by intelligent life. Eventually, his idea turned into Seti (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), which used the downtime on radar telescopes around the world to scour the sky for any signals. For 50 years, however, the sky has been silent.

There are lots of practical problems involved in hunting for aliens, of course, chief among them being distance. If our nearest neighbours were life-forms on the (fictional) forest moon of Endor, 1,000 light years away, it would take a millennium for us to receive any message they might send. If the Endorians were watching us, the light reaching them from Earth at this very moment would show them our planet as it was 1,000 years ago; in Europe that means lots of fighting between knights around castles and in North America small bands of natives living on the great plains. It is not a timescale that allows for quick banter – and, anyway, they might not be communicating in our direction.

The lack of a signal from ET has not, however, prevented astronomers and biologists (not to mention film-makers) coming up with a whole range of ideas about what aliens might be like. In the early days of Seti, astronomers focused on the search for planets like ours – the idea being that, since the only biology we know about is our own, we might as well assume aliens are going to be something like us. But there’s no reason why that should be true. You don’t even need to step off the Earth to find life that is radically different from our common experience of it.

‘Extremophiles’ are species that can survive in places that would quickly kill humans and other ‘normal’ life-forms. These single-celled creatures have been found in boiling hot vents of water thrusting through the ocean floor, or at temperatures well below the freezing point of water. The front ends of some creatures that live near deep-sea vents are 200C warmer than their back ends.

“In our naive and parochial way, we have named these things extremophiles, which shows prejudice – we’re normal, everything else is extreme,” says Ian Stewart, a mathematician at Warwick University and author of What Does a Martian Look Like?

“From the point of view of a creature that lives in boiling water, we’re extreme because we live in much milder temperatures. We’re at least as extreme compared to them as they are compared to us.”

On Earth, life exists in water and on land but, on a giant gas planet, for example, it might exist high in the atmosphere, trapping nutrients from the air swirling around it. And given that aliens may be so out of our experience, guessing motives and intentions if they ever got in touch seems beyond the realms even of Hawking’s mind.

Paul Davies, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University and chair of Seti’s post-detection taskforce, argues that alien brains, with their different architecture, would interpret information very differently from ours. What we think of as beautiful or friendly might come across as violent to them, or vice versa.

Answers to some of these conundrums will begin to emerge in the next few decades. The researchers at the forefront of the work are astrobiologists, working in an area that has steadily marched in from the fringes of science thanks to the improvements in technology available to explore space.

Scientists discovered the first few extrasolar planets in the early 1990s and, ever since, the numbers have shot up. Today, scientists know of 443 planets orbiting around more than 350 stars. Most are gas giants in the mould of Jupiter, the smallest being Gliese 581, which has a mass of 1.9 Earths. In 2009, Nasa launched the Kepler satellite, a probe specifically designed to look for Earth-like planets.

Shostak is confident that, as telescope technology keeps improving, Seti will find an ET signal within the next two decades. “We will have looked at another million star systems in two dozen years. If this is going to work, it will work soon.”And what happens if and when we detect a signal? “My strenuous advice will be that the coordinates of the transmitting entity should be kept confidential, until the world community has had a chance to evaluate what it’s dealing with,” Davies told the Guardian recently.

But his colleague, Shostak, says we should have no such concerns. “You’ll have told the astronomical community – that’s thousands of people. Are you going to ask them all not to tell anybody where you’re pointing your antenna? There’s no way you could do that.

“And anyway, why wouldn’t you tell them where [the alien life-form] is? Are you afraid people will broadcast their own message? They might do that but, remember, The Gong Show has already been broadcast for years.” And, for that matter, the Beatles.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service


Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking passes away at age 76
AFP | Dawn.comUpdated March 14, 2018 Facebook Count
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Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose mental genius and physical disability made him a household name and inspiration across the globe, has died at age 76, a family spokesman said on Wednesday.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” professor Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim said in a statement carried by Britain’s Press Association news agency.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world,” the family said. “He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

The physicist and cosmologist had defied death for decades after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease when he was a 21-year-old student at Cambridge University. Most people die within a few years of the diagnosis of the disease, also called the motor neurone disease.

Hawking first gained attention with his 1988 book ‘‘A Brief History of Time,’’ a simplified overview of the universe. It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His subsequent theories have revolutionised modern understanding of concepts like black holes and the Big Bang theory of how the universe began.

For 30 years, he held a mathematics post at the Cambridge University previously held by Sir Isaac Newton. Hawking retired from that position in 2009 and then became the director of research at the university’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

Hawking achieved all that despite being nearly entirely paralysed and in a wheelchair since 1970. In his last days, he communicated only by twitching his right cheek. Since catching pneumonia in 1985, Hawking needed around-the-clock care and relied on a computer and voice synthesizer to speak.

A tiny infrared sensor on his glasses hooked up to a computer detected Hawking’s cheek pulses, which selected the words displayed on a computer screen. The chosen words were then spoken by the voice synthesizer. It could take up to 10 minutes for Hawking to formulate a single sentence.

His last book, The Grand Design, was published in 2010.

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, attacks motor neurons, cells that control the muscles. Patients typically suffer muscle weakness and wasting, become paralysed and have problems talking, swallowing and breathing. Only about 10 per cent of patients live longer than a decade.

Hawking married twice and has three children and three grandchildren. With his daughter Lucy, he wrote several children’s books on physics.

truth about forced conversion in thar

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The truth about forced conversions in Thar
The Hindu community in the desert region fears for its faith, and with good reason.
Naziha Syed AliUpdated Aug 17, 2017 04:46pm
Illustrations by Reem Khurshid.

UMERKOT: “When a girl is brought before a qazi for conversion to Islam, the qazi must comply immediately. If he delays the conversion even to say his prayers, he himself becomes kafir,” said Pir Waliullah Sarhandi, a younger brother of Pir Mohammed Ayub Jan Sarhandi. The latter, who is gaddi nashin of the Sarhandi shrine in Samaro tehsil of Umerkot district, claims to have converted thousands of Hindu girls and young women to Islam, mostly those belonging to the scheduled castes — Bheel, Meghwar and Kohli. Allegedly, this includes forced conversions, as well as conversions of underage girls eloping with Muslim men.

The most recent case to have caused a stir is that of Ravita Meghwar: her parents claim their 16-year-old daughter was abducted by men from an influential Muslim community living near their village in Tharparkar district, forcibly converted by Pir Ayub Jan in Samaro and married off to one of her kidnappers. When Ravita appeared in court in response to her parents’ petition she refuted their account, maintaining that she had gone willingly and that she wished to stay with her husband, Nawaz Ali Shah.

It is a story that is playing on repeat in Tharparkar and Umerkot, districts that are home to large communities of Hindus — Tharparkar’s Hindu population is in fact around 50 per cent — and it threatens to wreck centuries of inter-communal harmony in the area. This is a part of the country where religion has traditionally been worn lightly. Instead, cultural commonalities bind the communities. At one time there was even social acceptance of Muslim men marrying Hindu women: former Sindh chief minister Arbab Rahim’s maternal cousin is one-time MPA Ram Singh Sodho, whose mother converted to Islam after marriage. Now locals profess increasing concern that Thar too like the rest of the country is becoming polarised along religious lines.

After the hue and cry over forced conversions in Umerkot and Tharparkar districts, the Sindh Assembly passed a bill against the practice in November 2016. But before the governor could sign it into law, some religious organisations threatened widespread agitation if the government did not withdraw it. Their main objection was to the provision stipulating that the conversion of underage individuals would not be formally recognised until they reached the age of majority. The attempted legislation was mothballed. Now however, the government has announced it will review the bill again. To what end, it is difficult to predict.

A little before sunset on an overcast day, Gulzar-i-Khalil, Pir Ayub Jan’s madressah in Samaro, looks drab and uninviting. Its dun-coloured façade with its peeling paint and barren surroundings has an air of neglect, and facilities for the students appear to be extremely basic — as if the owners have far more important things to attend to. In the grounds, groups of boys mill about, enjoying the weather during a break in their religious instruction. Two men are stooped over a griddle on a wood fire nearby, making chapattis for the evening meal at the madressah.

Students at Pir Ayub Jan Sarhadi’s madressah in Samaro with the seminary’s caretaker. ─ White Star
The pir’s brother, voluble and expansive, clearly takes pride in the institution’s reputation as a one-stop shop for no-questions-asked conversions. “We’ve converted untold numbers of Hindus to Islam,” he said, declaring himself unable to give a precise figure. “No one is forced to become a Muslim, there’s not even one instance of that,” he insisted. Pir Ayub Jan himself is in Karachi to gather support for putting pressure on Sindh’s legislators to withdraw the bill.

Similar to Bharchundi Sharif in Mirpurkhas district further north, the Sarhandi shrine is synonymous with religious conversions, but most of the conversions taking place at the latter are of Hindus living in lower Sindh. Even going by the estimates of those engaged in the conversion of non-Muslims in Tharparkar and Umerkot districts, the annual rate is at least in the several hundreds, possibly more.

“At least 25 conversions of young Hindu girls and women take place every month in Umerkot’s Kunri and Samaro talukas alone,” said an activist from a local human rights organisation. “This area is so deprived and the people, most of whom belong to the scheduled castes, are so powerless that the families know there’s no use in them reporting forced conversions to the police, let alone raising a hue and cry.” That is why only a miniscule number of alleged forced conversion cases make it into the media. According to a list compiled from news reports by the organisation mentioned above, in 2015 and 2016, only 13 Hindus in the Samaro and Kunri talukas converted to Islam.

However, a curious disparity is evident even in the few cases that have been reported. The list of 13 only includes two males. One of them is Dilip Kumar, an adult, and the other is Ramesh Bheel, a young boy who converted along with his mother Devi Bheel. Human rights activists in Umerkot and Mithi, Tharparkar’s largest town, ask in exasperation: “Why only young girls and women of marriageable age? Why don’t mature women convert? Why is the story always the same — a girl runs away with a Muslim man, converts to Islam and refuses to have anything more to do with her family, who have little choice but to stay quiet?”

Daughters gone forever
Shiv Dhan and Mani, however, did not stay quiet when their two daughters, Sonari and Samjoo, were abducted from home in the middle of the night on Jan 15, 2016 by a group of intruders armed with guns and axes. Among them was the son of a landlord who owned acres of land on the other side of the main road running alongside their village and who subsequently married Sonari. At his modest home, Shiv Dhan, who along with his wife works on a local landlord’s farm, reached into a crevice in the mudbrick wall and carefully pulled out a bundle of folded newspapers. The yellowing pages were a testament to the couple’s desperate struggle to get their daughters back. “Along with some members of our family, we occupied the road there and remained there for several days in protest,” he said. “We filed a case but they never let us meet her or talk to her alone.” Sonari maintained in court that she had converted to Islam and married of her own will.

Shiv Dhan and Mani, the parents of Sonari who have never seen their daughter. She was kidnapped and forcibly converted last year. ─ White Star
Their sole comfort is that their younger daughter was returned in a few days: they have never met, or even seen 16-year-old Sonari since. Tellingly, when asked how many children he has, Shiv Dhan said he has one daughter and two sons. Whether he has become resigned to never setting eyes on Sonari again, or whether she is now dead to him after having changed her religion, it is difficult to tell.

Instances of Hindu men wanting to convert for the sake of marrying Muslim girls are virtually unheard of. One that did occur two years ago is illustrative of the power imbalance in the area’s social dynamics. A young Hindu man from Umerkot city was working in Karachi when he fell in love with a Pakhtun girl. He brought her to his native town, became a Muslim and married her. It was not long before the men from her family descended on his house, and not finding the couple there, abducted some women of his family. Although police rescued them before the men could go very far, the boy’s family returned the girl. “Do you ever hear of Hindu girls’ families being able to do something like this? They can’t because the police and agencies are all on the side of the Muslims,” said Ramesh Kumar*, a rights activist in Umerkot.

A demographic breakdown of the Hindu population in Sindh offers an interesting perspective on the travails of the community in Pakistan. According to Krishan Sharma, a Mithi-based human rights activist, northern and central Sindh are home to upper caste, well-to-do Hindu business families, who live in prime locations coveted by politicians and tribal sardars who want to invest in land, or set up petrol pumps, factories, etc. Often the long-term Hindu residents do not wish to sell their property, so “a situation is created to drive them out”. That can include kidnapping for ransom as well as forced conversion of their daughters.

“Contrary to perceptions, most of those in this category don’t migrate to India. They are shifting from Ghotki, Khairpur, Umerkot, etc to Karachi where they can be found in large numbers dominating the rice, pulses and cotton markets,” said Mr Sharma. “Ironically, Hindus feel safest in the country’s most lawless city.”

The highest number of Hindus in Pakistan, however, live in southern Sindh where most of them work as agro-based bonded labour. “They have no access to education, health or basic amenities. Their women and children work in the open all day, they’re visible, everyone can see them. They’re easy targets for the waderas’ sons and their henchmen.” (The daughters of Muslim haris elsewhere in the country are often no safer at the hands of waderas.) That is also why the highest number of forced conversions of Hindu girls and young women take place in the green belt of Umerkot district — rather than the arid Tharparkar district — where Muslims zamindars have vast landholdings and most of the haris are Hindu.

(Local Hindus are at pains to point out that it is only the wealthy Muslim zamindars that prey on their girls and women. Other Muslims in Thari society, they say, have always accorded them dignity and respect.)

According to human rights campaigners, older men lure and entice young and naive Hindu girls by promises of marriage that seem like a stepping stone to a far better life than they could ever dream of. “But even if no force is involved, this is not informed consent,” maintained one of these activists. “In the case of minors, it should not be deemed consent at all, but compulsion.”

Some of the largesse bestowed on new converts: free medicine, sewing machines, dowries for their daughters and brick and mortar living homes. The pictures are taken from the New Muslim Welfare Association booklet.
Dr Ramesh Vankwani, MNA and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said, “There is not even one case in which anyone has willingly converted. These men, who are often already married, kidnap the girls, keep them in their custody for 15 days, rape them, and through threats and intimidation, make the girls say they converted willingly”.

When a young girl finds herself in such a situation, she is left with few options. Returning home can mean putting herself and her family at risk of retaliation by her abductors. At the same time, and this is particularly in the case of older girls, she is also afraid the community may shun her because they see her as defiled. “For her to remain with the man can appear to be the lesser evil,” said Fatima Halepoto, a human rights lawyer. “What adds to the tragedy is that these girls, or even the children they bear, are never fully accepted into the man’s family either. I know of cases in which they are made to live in a room separate from the main house.”

Charity, but only for ‘New Muslims’
However, it is not only the powerlessness of haris in the social hierarchy that gives license to wealthy waderas to take advantage of them. After all, Hindus have lived here since centuries; it is only in recent years that forced conversions have become such a burning issue. An increasing wave of fundamentalism in the area is also contributing to an indirect sanction of the practice. Moreover, this growing religiosity has given rise to another aspect of religious conversion, one that directly exploits the haris’ extreme poverty.

Certificate of conversion awarded by the JUI-F madressah.
About 20 kilometres north of Umerkot, near the garrison town of Chhor, lies the settlement of New Islamabad. Fresh converts are schooled for four months here in the basics of Islam after they recite the kalima at the imposing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) madressah complex in Chhor. The new Muslims receive a ‘sanad’ (certificate) upon completing their course.

The head of the madressah complex, an affable man by the name of Mohammed Yaqoob who is also the general secretary of JUI-F Umerkot district and the head of the Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia in Umerkot and Tharparkar districts, said: “We accept only families for conversion. New Islamabad can accommodate 40 families at a time. Twenty-three families have recently left and another 35 are due to arrive soon.” With a sheepish smile, Maulvi Yaqoob said he did not wish to speak ill of Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi and agreed that Maulana Fazlur Rehman would not approve of the kind of conversions that took place in Samaro. He maintained that he refused to carry out conversions of Hindu girls accompanied by Muslim men wanting to marry them. “There is less Islam here and instead more of other things.”

At the same time, the madressah makes an exception for young Hindu men and women who cannot marry each other because of the many prohibited degrees of relationship in their culture. For them, changing their religion seems the only recourse.

Maulvi Yaqoob estimates that around 9,000 conversions have taken place at the madressah during the last 15 years. More recently though they have started maintaining a record, and he can confirm that last year, around 850 Hindus underwent conversion here.

In earlier years, he said, his compatriots had to often venture far afield in the area to preach, “but now 99.9 per cent of people who come to us for conversion come as a result of tableegh by the earlier converts”.

Another reason for impoverished lower caste Hindus to approach Maulvi Yaqoob for conversion may also be the largesse they receive upon entering the fold of Islam. The madressah’s New Muslim Welfare Association provides converts with brick and mortar homes to live in, ghee, flour, sewing machines, dowries for their daughters, etc. The ‘new’ Muslims are given the facility of cultivating crops on the surrounding land where a concrete-lined canal, supplying water to the Cantonment from Nara Canal in the east, provides water all year round. It is a vastly different scenario from the parched expanses where they wait anxiously for rains every year.

Maulvi Yaqoob outside his madressah in Chhor. ─ White Star
For progressives and rights activists in Thar, the rapidly expanding settlement of New Islamabad is further evidence that the secular nature of their society is being changed. “Where does the JUI get such lavish funding for all this construction and for maintaining the place?” said Akbar Soomro*, a development sector employee. Another social worker puts it bluntly: “The reason for what is happening is India’s close proximity to this part of Pakistan. Hindus, however loyal to this country, will always be suspect in the eyes of the establishment.”

According to MNA Ramesh Vankwani, “The forced conversions have set a precedent, that converting Hindus to Islam is sawab ka kaam. No one is protecting us, not even the state”.

Mr Sharma, the human rights worker based in Mithi, narrated a chilling incident. At a wedding function a few years ago, he found himself in conversation with a senior law-enforcement official.

“At one point he told me, ‘The state is not comfortable with you people’”, recalled Mr Sharma. “I asked if he was referring to Hindus. He said ‘No, everyone. In other border areas we get support and facilitation from people about the enemy, but we get no information from people in Tharparkar, from either Muslims or Hindus. There’s no support from the security perspective to the state.’ When I responded, ‘Should we Hindus leave?’ he said, ‘No we’re not asking for that. We simply want Muslims here to be better Muslims’.

Some time later, when I saw a vehicle belonging to the FIF [the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, the charity wing of the Jamaatud Dawa], I realised this wasn’t an individual’s statement.”

From the point of the security forces, Thar’s geographical contiguity with India makes it a particularly sensitive area where cross-border infiltration makes it necessary to exercise more-than-usual vigilance over the local population, regardless of religious affiliation.

Salafi Islam comes to Thar
Nevertheless, say locals, while the state has little money for health, education or development in the area, there seems to be plenty of funding for new madressahs that have mushroomed since the early 2000s. It is not as though ultra conservative Islam has never existed here. Many decades ago, Badiuddun Shah Al-Rashdi, a cousin of Pir Pagara, brought the Salafi Ahle Hadith movement to Thar from Badin with funding from Kuwait.

However, in a society that valued its pluralism, the influence of its political arm, the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, remained confined to a few pockets, such as between Diplo — a town in Tharparkar — and Badin district. Until about 15 years ago, that is, when a hardline version of Islam began to spread throughout Thar. It found a natural ally in members of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith. These now form the bulk of the JuD presence here. According to locals, they seem to have unlimited funding at their disposal to build madressahs; they even purchase mosques to disseminate Salafi Islam.

Although most madressahs in Umerkot and Tharparkar districts belong to JUI-F, JuD’s presence in Thar is steadily increasing. (A few madressahs belong to the Jamaat-i-Islami as well.) This is despite the fact that JUD is on the Interior Ministry watchlist under Schedule II of the Anti Terrorism Act, which denotes that the government has reason to believe it may be involved in terrorism.

An enormous JuD centre is under construction just outside Mithi at the Nagarparkar road junction. Several people told Dawn that locals driving trucks with construction material for the building have to disembark outside the gate. The madressah’s own people take the vehicles inside, unload the contents, and bring the trucks back. Meanwhile in Mithi itself, the FIF has forcibly occupied a college property as its base.

In response to the contention that madressahs are increasing all over the country, rights activists in Thar say that the existence of a huge, largely destitute and marginalised Hindu population in the area means that the issue of conversions is far more complex than its proponents make it out to be. It also carries a high risk of violent social conflict.

Two years ago, in the run-up to Eidul Azha, JuD declared they would sacrifice cows in Mithi’s main Kashmir chowk that Eid. (Because so many Hindus live in Tharparkar, there is no cow slaughter in Mithi, while only one shop in Umerkot town sells beef.) But the residents, both Hindu and Muslim alike, went to the maulvi and asked him not to create fasaad between the communities. Thus far, according to locals, JuD is not involved in conversions of Hindus. “They’re concentrating on making better Muslims of the Muslims for now,” said a Hindu social worker.

Most intriguing though, given the animosity in Pakistan towards proselytising by any religious community other than Muslims, is the space allowed to Christians, mainly Irish Catholic, and Ahmadis to operate their centres in Thar — some in close proximity to madressahs. (Ahmadis in particular have to contend with institutionalised discrimination and persecution in the rest of the country.) The Christian and Ahmadi missionaries offer impoverished Hindus schools, health clinics etc as an inducement — in fact, it is not unknown for the converts to revert to their old faith if the projects fail to materialise or come to an end. “If a Hindu becomes a Christian here, or even an Ahmedi, it’s not a problem just as long as he ceases to be Hindu,” said Mr Soomro, the human rights activist.

Thar has long been known for communal harmony, negligible incidence of crime and a benign social ethos. If, as the locals fear, things proceed along the same trajectory, the part of Pakistan they call home may become engulfed in the kind of turmoil that has proven such a formidable challenge to the state elsewhere in the country.

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

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DHAKKANJUL 17, 2017 08:01AM
Thanks for reporting this, Dawn and Naziha. This is tragic.

ZAKIJUL 17, 2017 08:11AM
And we have audacity of talking about problems facing muslims in non muslim world

MGJUL 17, 2017 08:31AM
Kudos to Dawn for brave and clear reporting. This is a daring act and I wish all involved in this reports stay safe.

RAHULJUL 17, 2017 08:32AM
Brave brutal and honest essay!

Do unto others what others do to you. Wonder if Hindus in India want to pay back in the same way?

Heart Breaking. Many thanks to Dawn for unbiased reporting.

KEDARJUL 17, 2017 09:12AM
Dawn, you are simply great !

At the same time it is distressing to note the state of affairs in India’s neighbourhood.

RAJESHJUL 17, 2017 09:56AM
It’s time we start becoming better human beings, then better Hindus or Muslims

DAWN ADMIRERJUL 17, 2017 10:01AM
Founding father Jinnah wanted minorities to be as safe. Anyways there is no point scoring brownie points over Pakistan. But let us work together to make the population free from all evils.

Dawn is certainly doing its part in exposing this very tragic situation that so desperately needs to be dealt with, so that citizens of all religions are respected. It’s puzzling how these Islamic groups claim to be religious while engaging in kidnapping and forced conversions.

PIYUSHJUL 17, 2017 10:10AM
After, who can beat Dawn in honest and precise reporting?

PIYUSHJUL 17, 2017 10:11AM
After all, who can beat Dawn in neutral and precise reporting? A very important article to be read by all .

INDIANJUL 17, 2017 10:13AM
So much of blood has been spilled, the dark forces will be punished.

HAROONJUL 17, 2017 10:14AM
PPP and it’s liberal credentials are a farce.

SINGH.RAJUL 17, 2017 10:25AM
This is Govt story.

GIRISHJUL 17, 2017 10:29AM
This report must be read by every Indian. This report should be shared by all within India.

ABUZARJUL 17, 2017 10:35AM
to me punch line of the article. “At one point he told me, ‘The state is not comfortable with you people’”, recalled Mr Sharma. “I asked if he was referring to Hindus. He said ‘No, everyone. In other border areas we get support and facilitation from people about the enemy, but we get no information from people in Tharparkar, from either Muslims or Hindus. There’s no support from the security perspective to the state.’ When I responded, ‘Should we Hindus leave?’ he said, ‘No we’re not asking for that. We simply want Muslims here to be better Muslims’.

VIJAY B.JUL 17, 2017 10:35AM
@Girish you say “This report must be read by every Indian. This report should be shared by all within India.” to what purpose? and then what? What do you expect the Indians who read it to do about it?

ABUZARJUL 17, 2017 10:38AM
its all started like this not only in Pakistan but in other countries as well, right wing majority always persue dream job for the country.

MUMTAZ SHAHJUL 17, 2017 10:51AM

What’s the govt doing ?

M S RATHOREJUL 17, 2017 11:14AM
So much for the freedom and rights of the minority population. However, this is evident not only in Pakistan. What’s wrong with these so called religious people. What the hell government and other agencies are doing. There are many in Pakistan who wants to fight for rohingya Muslim from myanmar but what about your own country…..oh hoo may be they are not Muslims. The Hindu and other minority community must be living under perpetual fear and lost self dignity. Shame on such a state of affairs. Thanks and congratulations dawn for such nice reporting standard.

PARAS KUMARJUL 17, 2017 11:19AM
Pakistan Government has failed to work for its communities and safegaurd the interest of other communities and this is due to that only.

IMRANJUL 17, 2017 11:32AM
I lived there more than four years but i could not find any such case.

SAADJUL 17, 2017 11:33AM
Please note that Humanity First International does not provide help as a form of inducement!

All of its missions are designed to alleviate human suffering and that is it. Mr. Soomro’s statement is painting a wrong picture.

Journalism of the highest quality..You guys are true patriots who have the courage to highlight ills of the society. Its the first step to fixing things

BHARATHJUL 17, 2017 12:19PM
Very tragic. The sooner we recognize the dangers of religious extremism and fight it, the better the world will be.

AHMADJUL 17, 2017 12:34PM
@Neptune srimal That’s When we cry on Every Channel in Pakistan “OH Look at what Hindus are doing with Muslims there.” But We do not care what we are doing at with them here.

SAVITAJUL 17, 2017 12:46PM
Major human rights violation. Why Dawn has reported this kind of report so late. And others are not reporting this.

@Girish: No, it must be published in local languages and read by every Pakistani!

SGHJUL 17, 2017 01:50PM
Thank you author Naziha Syed Ali, thank you illustrator Reem Khurshid. DAWN, please carry on this honest and bold journalism.

SUJIT SINGH JUL 17, 2017 01:50PM
Nothing new in the story. We always knew it.

However, it is brave for newspaper to print this.

Kudos to Dawn.

I am just wondering if the story is also published in sindhi and urdu, if they have an edition in those languages

YAQUT KHANJUL 17, 2017 02:44PM
@Piyush expecting same from Indian media.

A highly appreciated piece of writing a research. A commendable approach by the author to let others understand well basic and hidden aspects of this case before drawing any thought…..

GUMNAMJUL 17, 2017 03:36PM
A well written story based on facts and evidences. I think situation is worse than this regarding building of new madrassahs. May God make this country peaceful.

LI-EN-JAJUL 17, 2017 03:40PM
Religious conversation should be completely banned. The power should rest only with a first class magistrate who can allow on case to case basis with a notice period of one month. State should also make law that married people should not be allowed to get married again to a newly converted person. It looks so shameful which century we are living?

KHWARIZMIJUL 17, 2017 03:43PM
The Hindu community of Thar is a very conservative one where women are not allowed to marry according to their own will. Marriages are arranged by their families within their own community. Parents have often used the conversion-card as a way to get a woman back who has married a Muslim man willingly out if love. I am saying forced conversions can not happen as I am sure there must be cases, I am saying it has been misused too much as an argument.

SUNEEL KUMARJUL 17, 2017 03:47PM
Honest and dare reporting. Once again thanks NAZIHA SYED ALI and Dawn

Kudos Dawn e-news. surprisingly, this is true that now days i realised i start my day with e- dawn news articles, though sometimes its irrelevant for me but i like reading your point of view and your grievances, suggestions for any issue related to minorities. every morning when i login to my system at my office i read Dawn news after that i read TOI or any other indian e-news. my love unbiased for Dawn. i like the way you guys write articles about your problem, issues which needs to be rectified between india and pakistan knowingly the adverse effects, if any.

VICKYJUL 17, 2017 04:16PM
So sad, so sad. We say, we are in 21st century. What a tragedy.

Feeling badly, sad.

BHUPAT RAI JUL 17, 2017 05:45PM
Thank you dawn for such brave work.

ARUNJUL 17, 2017 05:48PM
@Yaqut khan no forced conversion here Mr.Khan

SACHINJUL 17, 2017 07:16PM
If this can happen in this day and age, what are the chances that this happened to your own ancestors all over Punjab and Sindh from 12th. Century till the British came ?? After all the soldiers of the armies from Turkey and Persian etc were young men and in those times there was no concept of human rights or disciplining a soldier. Also most generals would look the other way even if they knew about this. Remember your own ancestors who were Hindus. Its not a debate about religion. It is just accepting that there is a very high chance this happened to your own ancestors at the hands of invading soldiers.

HZRJUL 17, 2017 09:11PM
@Dawn admirer That was wishful thinking.Over the years the minorities have shrunk to the level being minuscule and yet they are not allowed to live in peace or practice their faith.Tragic.

GOVINDJUL 17, 2017 10:04PM
@Sachin Very well said.

ZUHAIBJUL 17, 2017 10:08PM
I am an Indian Muslim. With growing intolerance in India I fully understand how one feels when a community is persecuted for no fault at all. I fully understand how Hindus in Pakistan would be feeling now. In India liberals and progressive people stand for us. It’s up to liberals and progressive people in Pakistan to stand for Hindus in Pakistan and ensure they get proper justice and also ensure such incidents are not repeated in future.

@Sachin Very True.

SANTOSH JUL 17, 2017 11:20PM
Dawn, you have strong dare to express views of true journalism. I highly appriciate your courage and coverage, I expect from the same way my Country. The World is like garden, it looks more beautiful having different flowers rather than single colour.

Overall it is very insightful report. However version on converted girls is totally missing in the story. I don’t know why the writer overlooked them despite being the main stake holder.

TARZJUL 18, 2017 01:04AM
Brave and Honest Article. Hats off to Dawn.


XYZJUL 18, 2017 02:26AM
@Khwarizmi then why only underage girls? And why they are never again seen by their parents. Do you think whatever the quarrely may be, you will choose to never see your own parents and siblings?

S.R.REDDYJUL 18, 2017 02:55AM
@Ahmad thank u brother for your frank view.

S.R.REDDYJUL 18, 2017 02:56AM
@Imran you might not observed bro

RAHIMJUL 18, 2017 05:49AM
Pls stop this inhuman activity

LATEEFJUL 18, 2017 06:17AM
Hats off to dawn…this is true journalism

GAGANJUL 18, 2017 06:54AM
@Ahmad : I’m a rational Indian and have friends in Pakistan but trust me my dear, Nothing like this happens anywhere in India.Not even a single % of it. This is institutionalised it cannot be stopped. Some idiots do harrass Muslims on rare occasions that too is rare on most occasions it’s personal enemity.But this is horrible. Come over to India on a trip and see yourself you will be shocked. You will realise how much propaganda you grew up on.

SIDDHARTHAJUL 18, 2017 07:46AM
@YAQUT KHAN, Indian news papers have no time to publish investigative and honest report that will challenge the foundation of a society. They are more into making money (read the “Times of India”). Now you know why Indians love to read the “Dawn.” Three news papers are favorite to me. The NY Times, Guardian and Dawn. The Statesman of Calcutta is also good but not popular among young Indians any more. Thank you Dawn.

BHOLA BHALAJUL 18, 2017 07:50AM
@IMRAN, Are you an investigative journalist who believes in human rights?

MUSAVEERJUL 18, 2017 08:40AM
brave and honest reporting – kudos Dawn. Love from India.

Report gives the true picture. Thanks Dawn for informing about Hindus conversions.

JAMMU JUL 18, 2017 03:06PM
kudos to dawn for this reporting.

SHARAD SENJUL 18, 2017 05:10PM
Happy to see that Pakistan has an honest and sincere news agency like dawn. It’s so sad the crimes we humans commit in the name of God and religion When will we learn to accept and love people the way they are

UDAYAN MITRAJUL 18, 2017 07:05PM
Men who treat women of other faiths as sexual conquests, trophies or spoils of war are simply not men.

GUL JUL 19, 2017 10:46AM
Very comprehensive story on a very touchy issue. Let the society know facts as these exists. Ultimately we need a tolerant, pluralistic and secular society in all fairness.

Any one stands in support of Hindus in Pakistan? Forced conversion and kidnapping of Hindus girls be stopped.

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