Demand for regional minority rights charter
KARACHI: Participants in a meeting on Wednesday passed a resolution urging the civil society of the regional countries to jointly develop a ‘South Asian charter for minority rights’ so that people of vulnerable classes and marginalised sections of society can be protected.
The resolution was adopted at the end of the two-day South Asian regional conference on “Religious minorities and human rights: challenges and opportunities” organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research. Besides local experts, civil society and political representatives from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal participated in the meeting.
Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court Justice Musheer Alam said that though the constitution and laws guaranteed equal rights to all citizens, practically speaking owing to the poor governance or certain biases of some individuals or even other interests, minorities and other marginalised sections of the society or people belonging to vulnerable groups might not be getting the fair deal.
Referring to the issue of forced marriages and conversions of Hindu girls that had been raised earlier, he said that in many cases the girls wanted to marry the boys of their choice so these methods were adopted, but this problem was not restricted to minority community only.
He said that a large number of cases regarding Muslim girls who wanted to marry the boy of their choice also came to the courts. He said that though Islam gave right to a girl to marry of her free will, the society had its own set of rules and traditions in which families did not like girls of one caste, tribe, sect, ethnicity, etc marrying to the boys of different sections of the society.
He said girls suffered extreme hardships in cases where marriages failed and they did not have their families to fall back on, hence they became more vulnerable to victimisation and exploitation.
He said it was not a minority-specific issue and society needed to open up and debate the issue so that it could be resolved.
He said courts gave justice whenever the cases came, but they also had limitations because when complainants did not properly and regularly follow their cases, the courts could not do much.
He said a large number of people fell victim to targeted killing in Karachi, or the Hazara community members were killed in Balochistan; in these cases those killed and the killers both were Muslims.
He said the over all law and order situation was very poor so everyone suffered and the vulnerable communities suffered more.
Sindh Human Rights Minister Anis Haroon said the need here was to develop role models like in India where after Gujarat incidents Hindus resisted and remained steadfast.
She said although resistance against fundamentalists existed here, it was becoming weaker with the passage of time because of hostile attitude of extremists.
National Commission on Status of Women chief Khawar Mumtaz said minorities were scattered and voiceless. They were afraid of persecution. She stressed the need for changing the mindset and raising the voice in support of marginalised people.
Rahim Changezi of the Balochistan University said that over 1,100 Hazara community members had been killed and over 2,500 had been injured in past couple of years in Balochistan, particularly in Quetta.
The community members were reluctant to go out of their houses, even young students were targeted and their school buses were attacked. But the law-enforcement agencies did not play their role to protect the community, he added.
A resident of Badami Bagh Lahore Nadeem Anthony talked about a recent mob attack on his neighbourhood in Lahore.
Phulloo Meghwar of Umerkot said that a six year girl was raped in his neighbourhood but no action was taken by police and when community protested, an innocent person was arrested by the police.
Other speakers demanded that the discriminatory laws were abolished and the police, lawyers and judiciary, particularly subordinate judiciary, were sensitised to minority-related issues.
They demanded that specific laws were formulated to check the forced conversion issue.
They said that misuse of amplifiers and loudspeakers in spreading hatred among different groups of people was stopped.
They said that syllabus was reviewed and material in schoolbooks was removed that promoted contempt for other religions, beliefs, ways of life, ethnicity; and instead human values that uphold the dignity and self-respect of all humankind were promoted.
They demanded that minority community students were taught their own religions and they should not be forced to study Islamiyat.