Minorities in the Islamic Republic
The Lahore resolution laid out the blue print for Pakistan. It envisioned an independent homeland for Muslims, consisting of “independent states” of geographical contiguous areas with a Muslim majority. It also called for the provision of “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards for minorities in these units [independent states for Muslims] for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests.”
If Pakistan was meant to be a country where Muslims could live according to their aspirations, then it was also supposed to offer equal status to minorities; a thought that the great Quaid expressed in a press conference at New Delhi on July 14,1947. According to Quaid -e- Azam, “Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedoms of worship. They will have protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan.”
Far from being “in all respects the citizens of Pakistan,” and enjoying “political and administrative rights,” minorities in Pakistan today face a Pakistan that is dangerous for them to live in, a fact highlighted by our ranking as the fifth most unsafe country in the world for minorities. The State of Minorities Report 2013 explains this situation: “Pakistan has become one of the deadliest countries in the world for ethnic and religious minorities. In 2012, targeted attacks against the country’s minority communities rose significantly, with little or no action taken by the government to protect them.”
Militant organisations are indiscriminately targeting Shias across Pakistan, assassinating their leaders and attacking their religious processions. According to Human Rights Watch, “The Pakistani Taliban and its affiliates have conducted unprecedented attacks in 2013 on the country’s Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities, claiming responsibility for most major bombings and vowing further violence.
Human Rights Watch has recorded dozens of attacks on Shias in 2013, including some of the worst attacks on the community in Pakistan’s history. Amongst Shiites, Quetta’s Hazara community is bearing the brunt of the sectarian attacks. According to some estimates, nearly a quarter of those who are killed in sectarian violence since 2012 are Hazaras. This campaign of sectarian cleansing has severely disrupted the daily life of Hazaras. Human Rights Watch’s Ali Dayan Hasan said in an interview, “Hazara religious pilgrims, students, shopkeepers, vegetable sellers, doctors and other professionals have been targeted leading to not just widespread fear but increasingly restricted movement and a ghettoisation of community members, increasing economic hardship and curtailed access to education.”
Hindus and Christians are also living in onerous conditions. The story of Rinkle Kumari of Mirpur Mathelo highlights the misery of Hindus in Sindh. The girl was abducted, forcibly converted and was later married to a Muslim man. Many other Hindu girls met a similar fate, and in each case, perpetrators coerced the family of the aggrieved to stay silent or accept the consequences. Last year the case of Rimsha Masih exposed the plight of Christians in Pakistan. Rimsha, a juvenile with a learning disability was framed by a local Muslim cleric. The girl was taken into custody and locked in prison under blasphemy laws, and the accused was denied the right of bail. However, an uproar in the media forced the government to investigate the incident, leading to the acquittal of the girl.
For the Ahmadiyya community perhaps, the situation is most undesirable as it is considered a black mark just to declare their religious identity. They are ostracized, harassed, threatened, targeted, and their places of worship and graveyards are desecrated. Ethnic minorities in Pakistan are also getting similar treatment. In their case however, the accused are not sectarian and extremist groups but state institutions. In Balochistan, locals are abducted, only to end up later as mutilated corpses dumped by roadsides. According to Reuters, “The bodies of hundreds of pro-independence rebels have been found across the Balochistan province and many more have gone missing in the past several years.” The Baloch activists have accused state agencies of undertaking a “kill and dump policy” to crush dissent, but the government has denied such accusations.
Unfortunately, in all of this, the state is acting as a hapless bystander, failing miserably to discourage intolerance and to reign in sectarian groups who target minorities whenever and wherever they desire with impunity. Facing such circumstances, many members of minorities are fleeing Pakistan and seeking asylum abroad.
The purpose of Pakistan was to create a welfare state for Muslims and non- Muslims, where they could lead their lives with the complete rights and obligations of citizenship and with their religious identities protected. Nearly seventy four years since the adoption of the Lahore resolution, we have created a country where minorities are terrorised and persecuted, a place where sectarianism runs amok and where Muslim clerics openly promote hatred and violence against minorities. If we don’t check our zeal of Islamization, and do not assure that all citizens of Pakistan are protected, treated equally and given the freedom of association and worship, we stand to fail the test of history.
The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist.
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