On the occasion of National Minority Day being observed today (August 11), we reproduce here some excerpts from a few years’ old report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, to let the readers judge, has situation changed over the years in Pakistan.
Every year on 11th August we observe National Minority Day, which was declared by the government of Pakistan on August 11, 2009 in line with Father of Nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s address on August 11, 1947 wherein he had said: “You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan.”
However, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its 24-page report based on discussions held by ‘Working Group on Communities Vulnerable due to their Beliefs’ in 2010 and subsequent workshop held in 2014, depicts the situation contrary to Jinnah’s vision regarding minority rights in Pakistan. Following are the excerpts from the report titled ‘Minorities under attack: Faith-based discrimination and violence in Pakistan’ published a few years back. Let’s read and judge, has the situation changed over the years.
Discrimination in Constitution
Discrimination against religious minorities of Pakistan was formalized in the country’s first Constitution adopted in 1956 and was subsequently reinforced in the 1962 and 1973 revisions of the Constitution.
The Constitution of Pakistan, in article 25 (1), guarantees that “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.” Article 5 provides that “adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures,” and article 33 declares that it is the state’s responsibility to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian, and provincial prejudices among citizens. However, these provisions have never been fully implemented in practice, and are contradicted by other provisions of the Constitution.
In addition to the Constitution, many laws have been passed that formalize the discrimination against Pakistan’s religious minority groups.
Failure of governments
For the past several decades the Pakistani authorities have continuously failed to adequately protect minorities from faith-based violence. Even when some governments made pledges to bring perpetrators of faith-based crimes to justice, these promises have remained unfulfilled with regards to crimes committed against non-Muslims. The State’s failure to fight impunity for such crimes is seen as a tacit approval, and has resulted in rising religious intolerance and more overt acts of discrimination and violence against minorities.
The reach and diversity of Pakistani media has grown considerably over the last two decades.
Before 2004 there were only newspapers that reported mainstream news stories; today the Pakistani public has access to television channels, independent publications, and electronic media that represent a broader range of views. Nevertheless, there remains a considerable bias with which the grievances of minorities, their activities and events are projected in the media.
The media judiciously reports conversions of non-Muslims to Islam, most often portraying these as positive stories, but remains silent on the “organized conversions” taking place, particularly in Sindh, where several madrasas have forcibly converted non-Muslims, abducted Hindu girls to forcibly convert them to Islam, or accused non-Muslims of blasphemy.
Prejudice and stereotypes also prevail in the media. The negative images portrayed of the Hindu community echo those that prevailed within the politics of undivided India in the 1920s; the media project the Hindus as agents of India, and Hindu characters in television programs and films are depicted as “opportunist”, “usurers” and “unpatriotic” to Pakistan. Christians are portrayed as “agents of the West,” and Ahmadis are referred to within Urdu newspapers as “Jewish agents,” disloyal to Pakistan and enemies of Islam. The state fails to protect these communities against such defamation and intimidation.
Conversions and Forced Marriages
Forced marriages of girls take place under majority religious law which deems puberty as a license for marriage. In 2013, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women denounced the persistence of forced marriages and forced conversions in Pakistan and the continued use of religious law to justify such crimes. While in Muslim law the consent of parents or a wali (guardian) of the bride (whether minor or not) is taken otherwise the marriage remains unrecognized, the same principle does not apply when a Hindu girl is being converted and married to a Muslim man, so many Muslim men seek out young Hindu girls to forcibly convert and marry, as they legally need not bother with getting the girl’s guardian’s consent or permission.
Court rulings have supported such discrimination, notably legally recognizing the apparently coerced conversion of a seven year-old Hindu girl to Islam, or by legally dissolving a married Hindu woman’s first marriage to a Hindu man so that she can be forcibly wed to a Muslim man.
The societal discrimination is such that the media has published positive stories on Christian girls converting to Islam and marrying Muslim men, when at the same time reports have been received of mobs of Muslims attacking Christian homes simply because a Christian man is courting a Muslim woman.
Over the past several decades, successive governments in Pakistan have created and perpetuated an institutionalized discrimination against members of religious minority groups and minority Muslim sects from different parts of Pakistan. Discrimination in law and practice is still witnessed notably through a separate list for Ahmadi voters; the absence of codified personal law for Hindus and Sikhs; and the lack of effective representation for religious minority groups.
Hatred is being fomented in society through the inappropriate representation of minorities in curricula and in school textbooks and children are being denied the right to choose the religion they wish to study, if any.
Throughout the pattern of religious discrimination, women and girls suffer doubly, notably through the practice of forced conversion and forced marriages.
Perpetrators of faith-based violence do not fear justice due to rampant impunity for such crimes, which in turn fuels the perpetration of further crimes. The judges and lawyers involved in the prosecution of these crimes are prevented from operating due to the absence of or inadequate protection of their individual safety.
The Pakistani authorities have failed to ensure equality, dignity, rule of law and the protection of human rights of all Pakistanis, and thus rendered themselves responsible for serious violations of international human rights law, including the two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
This pattern of systematic discrimination has created a social environment whereby religious and political violence has spread throughout the country, at the hands of a small group of extremist elements. Such violence has also been insufficiently addressed by the authorities, notably with the lack of State response to militants demanding jizya (protection money) from Sikhs in FATA.
The violence, while initially targeting religious minorities, now also threatens the liberal and secular voices in Pakistan and those who defend them, notably the independent media, who are increasingly subject to threats and attacks.
Although Pakistan has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is useful to recall that religious persecution constitutes a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings. When this is part of a widespread and systematic practice, which is the case in Pakistan, these attacks can be qualified as a crime against humanity.