Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

Minority rights in Pakistan: Challenges and Solutions

Naveed Ahmad

The hue and cry on the violation of minority rights, soon after independence, emerged as a fuzzy whimpering, gradually gained a crescendo and over the decades, it has snowballed into major crises and have become a popular frenzy. The popular underprivileged sloganeering of Muslims of pre-independence evaporated soon after the independence. Since then, minorities in Pakistan have been subjected to social, political, economic and educational discrimination. Nevertheless, provisions through gradual constitutional development and changing composure of collective mindset, along with the evolution of liberal think tank in the region, the otherwise compromised rights of minorities have earned social and legal acceptance to some extent. However, there are pervasive social and moral anomalies still existent in society, which barricades the notion of mutual co-existence.

Pakistan, since its inception, came into being with a popular ideology of equal citizenry. Muslims being a minority in united India, found the motivation to craft the ideology of Pakistan as an all-embracing, irrespective of religion, caste and creed. Contrary to this, the lateral developments in Pakistan enveloped the reservations of minorities in fog. The emphasis of founding fathers of Pakistan with special regards to minorities became a myth and Qaid’s unwavering cry of religious, social and economic freedom to minorities faded away.

The famous entitlement of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by Sarojni naidu was incomplete. Jinnah, along with this, was an ambassador of the rights of minorities as well. It was Jinnah’s sane mind behind the construct of his fourteen points, Lakhna-o-pact and Delhi Muslim proposals which promised special rights to minorities. It was Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, who appointed Jughander nath mandal, a shoodher and untouchable in Hindu society, to chair the first ever constituent assembly of Pakistan. It was Jinnah, who, in his first speech after independence, echoed an unequivocal and open national narrative that reads;

“You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to with the business of the state”.

In a similar token, para(3) of Lahore resolution 1940 acknowledges that, no bill without the effective, adequate and mandatory safeguards will be accepted, having not specifically provided for the minorities, for the protection of social, political, religious and cultural rights in consultation with them. Likewise, it was sir Zafar ullah khan, former foreign minister of Pakistan and an Ahmedi by religion, who wrote the Lahore declaration and it was presented by A.K Fazal-ul-haq, a Bengali. This is how the founding fathers of Pakistan treated the minorities.

After the independence of Pakistan, particularly during the infamous regime of general Zia-ul-haq, the notorious efforts to craft the meaning of Pakistan from the fundamental Islamic credo started. The unchecked Islamization narrative of state disregarded the reservations of religious minorities in Pakistan. Since then, the plight of minorities with regards to religious liberty in particular and social acceptance in general has been an unsettling worry. The article 9 of the constitution of Pakistan promises the right to life and security. It maintains that, its state’s duty to safeguard the life of minorities. However, the provision could not provide any pragmatic value to resolve the issues of minorities. The joseph street incident (2013) that set ablaze an entire street of Christians in Lahore, stemming from unfounded blasphemy accusation, with many burnt alive and a similar incident in gojra, to count few, reflect the challenging life of minorities in Pakistan.

As a matter of fact, there are many provisions in legal and constitutional framework of Pakistan with special concerns to minorities. But, more than the textual acknowledgement, practical outcomes are important and that’s where both government and the society has failed to render fruitful outcomes. For instance, Article 14 of constitution of Pakistan lays great stress on the inviolability of the dignity. However, minorities like Christians have been labelled with and particularized for certain degraded jobs like sanitation. Moreover, Article 10 of the constitution necessitates free and fair trial for every individual, whereas minorities have been unable to extract any good from this provision owing to unchallenged might of religious majorities.

In a similar token, the constitutional non-compliance and ignorant outlook of citizenry has created an impasse in the implementation of special laws for minorities. As an example, Article 24 of the constitution gives the right to buy and sell property. However, minorities have been at challenge to enjoy this right. For instance, last year, a Christian was brutally killed for purchasing a house in a sunni majority area in Peshawar. Similarly, the management of religious institutions through Article 22, has been at the disposal of religious superiors of the religion while the minorities have been suffering from the same because of prevailed religious intolerance. Likewise, in the recent Karak incident, where a temple was set ablaze, killing of Cristian minorities, murder of an accused blasphemer in day light and that too in the court, forced marriages and forced conversion have furthered the worsening situation and have pressed the screws on the already festering wounds of minorities.

Nevertheless, there are many initiative and positive features that became a part of governance and judicial system, worthy of applaud. To count few, Pakistan is one of the Muslim countries where a chief justice of Pakistan can be a non-Muslim. For example, Justice Rana Rhagwan Daas and Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius were the acumens of their time in judiciary of Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan is one of the few countries where minorities have specified quota in national assembly and reserved seats in senate. Moreover, in competitive exams, both at provincial and combined level, minorities have special quota. Similarly, minorities enjoy special quota in armed services and professional fields like medical sciences and engineering.

On the other hand, Pakistan is the only country where Hindu and Sikh marriage act exists separately. Even in India, Sikhs in Hindu majority areas do not possess this kind of legal provision on marriages and need special registration. Likewise, regarding liberty of expression, Pakistan Cristian’s post, a daily newspaper in Pakistan, highlights issues, reservations and challenges to Cristian community.

Nevertheless, there are rather bigger challenges which need to be dealt first for a mutually harmonized society. For instance, it is highly pertinent to inject the spirit and emotion of acceptance of minorities in the hearts of common populace. Moreover, all the gazzetted holidays for minorities which have been stopped must be renewed to show the world that we are an inclusive nation, where the rights of minorities are protected. The representation of minorities must be increased in comparison to their population in national assembly. Pakistan has a single ministry for minority affairs and there is a high need to increase the ministries for minorities to empower them.

Likewise, minorities must have their proper political representation. In this regards, political parties must understand the need of minority empowerment and provide more tickets to minorities to contest elections. More than that, awareness at local level and eradicating the odds that hinder the bigger cause of humanity are important. The seats in national assembly, quota in jobs and army cannot be enhanced without knowing the exact population of minorities in Pakistan. However, population of minorities in Pakistan after 2017 census has not been released by government. Government must unveil the census report so that proper framework would be made to address the issues and to enhance the spectrum of quota of minorities in accordance with their exact population at every level.

Similarly, Pakistan should adopt a comprehensive law to address all forms of discriminations against minorities. There is high need to properly implement the existing laws aimed at protecting the rights of minorities. The legal system and law and order must comply with the fundamental human rights with special regards to minorities incorporated in constitution (Article 8-28). Most importantly proper implementation of the provisions of constitution in true letter and spirit is important.

On the whole, although minorities in Pakistan have been suffering owing to the lack of proper implementation of law and order and at the same time due to evolving violent attire of religious hard-liners, yet there is a lot to hope from the government as it has, to some extent, managed to provide important services towards religious liberty in Pakistan. The evolving liberal society bodes the hope for collective acceptance. Despite the fact that the minorities have been subjected to terror, deemed lesser citizens, killed and harassed and their places of worships demolished and set ablaze, there have been gradual developments in governance, constitution, law and order and the social composure that has gradually started to accept the minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan.

The contributor is a former CCO of “Wall of Hope” and a Graduate in Economics of GCU, Lahore.

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