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Status of Minorities

Every now and then something happens that highlights the precarious situation in which the non-Muslim religious minorities are living in Pakistan. However, the gloss on the issues of religious minorities proves to be fleeting in nature. The pattern that has emerged from a number of recent incidents is that the government’s interest stays alive in such cases as long as they remain on the radar screen of media. With media spotlight having shifted to other issues, things come back to square one with religious minorities living their lives in the grip of fear, intimidation and exploitation.

During the recent years, an alarming rise in persecution of minorities with terrorist attacks at their places of worship has been seen. A study conducted by Jinnah Institute titled ‘A Question of Faith’ lists the instances of discrimination and social persecution the minorities have suffered in recent years. The report says:

‘The events of 2010-11 have not occurred in a vacuum and are not atypical of Pakistani reality. These most recent attacks on religious minorities and the state’s tolerance towards this persecution are part of a long-term pattern of state complicity at all levels’ judicial, executive and legislative.’

However, the recent threat, packaged in ‘either accept Islam or get ready to be killed’ jargon, given to Kailaash tribe and people living in Chitral by the Taliban underscores the need of revisiting the problem and coming up with the recommendations to include the religious minorities in the national mainstream.

Before we get further, it is important to define word ‘minority’. According to the UN resolution passed in its 38th session,

‘Minority is a group of citizens of a State, constituting a numerical minority and in a non-dominant position in that State, endowed with ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the majority of the population, having a sense of solidarity with one another, motivated, if only implicitly, by a collective will to survive and whose aim is to achieve equality with its majority in fact and in law.’

While it is a standard practice to refer to the Quaid-e-Azam’s historic speech to the first session of the Constituent Assembly, what is little known is the fact that Lahore Resolution, which became the basis for the launch of struggle for freedom in the final and decisive phase, also promised complete religious freedom and equality of rights to the non-Muslim minorities in the State of Pakistan. The Para II of Lahore Resolution reads:

‘That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in these regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them; and in other parts of India where Mussalmans are in a minority, adequate, effective and mandatory safeguard shall be specially provided in the constitution for them and other minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.’

Mindful of the commitments of Pakistan’s founding fathers, the framers of the 1973 Constitution inserted a number of provisions in it that guaranteed freedom and rights to the religious minorities. For example:

  • ‘Every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion. (Article, 20-a)
  • Every religious dominion and every sect therefore shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. (Article, 20-b)
  • No person shall be compelled to pay any special tax the proceeds of which are to be spent on the propagation or maintenance of any other religion than his own. (Article 21)
  • The state shall guard the legitimate rights and interest of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and provincial services’ (Article, 36).

Despite these constitutional provisions, it is their implementation that matters the most. The minorities continue to feel discriminated against and their sense of insecurity is increasing. The deprivations felt by the minorities are multi-faceted. They range from legal discrimination to political to the social discrimination. They have often expressed their reservations on the abuse of Article 295-B & C of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), by some bigots or by some persons to settle their personal grudge.

At political level, though joint electorate has been restored, yet their marginalization has not been stemmed. They still have reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies but none in the Senate. Their representation in the Services of Pakistan, armed forces and judiciary is also negligible compared to their population sizes. In some areas of the country, minorities have to conceal their identities to avoid any mishap.

It is not the political context alone. Deep-seated social and religious attitudes against the religious minorities have also aggravated the state of affairs. These adverse attitudes are steeped in the history of Crusades and the creation of Pakistan. The mental state of some of the conservative Muslim sections is still rooted in pre-partition era where Hindus are considered agents of Hindustan and Christians of the West. The minorities are of the opinion that the country’s educational curricula do not do justice to their contribution.

Human rights activists such as I.A. Rehman and Ms. Hina Jilani are of the view that due to a culture of rampant persecution, coercive conversions, abductions and forced marriages, the minorities are migrating from Pakistan. They are now under greater fear of violence at the hands of extremists. This feeling of insecurity gets compounded due to inability of the state to come to their rescue when confronted with a threat to their survival, they hold.

It is about time that the state took some concrete steps to stop persecution of the minorities and for their mainstreaming as equal citizens of the state in line with the pledge of Pakistan’s founding fathers. The government of Pakistan did well to declare the 11th of August as the Day of Minorities meant to express solidarity with them. There is much more that needs to be done. The following is instructive in this regard:

  • Revisit, review and revise the existing laws to protect the non-Muslims’ rights and alleviate their apprehensions.
  • Add a section in Pakistan Penal Code which makes advocacy of religious hatred or incitement to discrimination or violence a punishable offence.
  • Undertake police reform and provide training to law enforcement agencies to ensure that vulnerable groups of society are protected.
  • Ameliorate the state bodies such as the Federal Shariat Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology and the persons having due knowledge of Islam be inducted into them.
  • Constitute a Minorities’ Authority comprising representatives of minorities to entertain complaints and ensure their rapid redressal
  • Legislate to stop forced conversions and make those a punishable offence
  • Reserve seats in Senate
  • Take appropriate measures to impart religious education to the minorities’ students according to their faith.
  • The syllabus for children in educational institutions should be revised and material against minorities be weeded out to promote harmony.
  • Trust properties should be managed and controlled by respective minority communities
  • Ban should be placed on organizations involved in promoting hatred, intolerance, extremism and terrorism.
  • Evacuee Trust Property Board of Pakistan should be controlled and headed by persons belonging to minorities.
  • The historic speech of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, delivered on August 11 1947 in the first Constituent Assembly session be made the integral part of the Constitution of Pakistan.

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