The rights — or rather the lack of them — of the small but diverse groups of religious minorities in Pakistan has once again come to the attention of the Supreme Court (SC). On June 4, the apex court inquired whether provincial and federal authorities were formulating any legislation to ensure the representation of minorities in government jobs as per Article 36 of the Constitution. The SC was hearing a suo-motu case on the Peshawar church bombing in which 83 died and 130 were injured. The SC heard that despite the commitment of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that an ‘endeavour fund’ valued at Rs100 million would be set up, thus far not a single rupee has gone to the victims. The bench sought an answer from the K-P government by June 16 — and we hope this move will mean some progress in the matter.
The SC then turned its attention to the registration of Christian marriages in Punjab, and the Acting Advocate General told the Court that in future Christian marriages were to be registered in each union council under the local government Act of 2001, and in doing so ‘tidied up’ a number of anomalies that have been bones of contention for years. Licences to solemnise and register marriages were granted to 155 priests and pastors. Different faiths have widely varying marriage customs and observance. The Hindu community, in particular, has had protracted difficulties with registering births, marriages and deaths. Ironing out the anomalies, however, is unlikely to immediately solve the problems, as provincial administrations rarely move quickly when it comes to the protection of the rights of minorities. There are substantial Christian population in both Sindh and Punjab. In Sindh alone, there are 620 temples, eight Sikh gurdwaras and 540 churches with 1,722 personnel deployed to protect them — and at least, as many again in Punjab. The minority population of Pakistan present zero threat to the majority, yet they are consistently targeted with abductions, forced conversions and discrimination in recruitment practices in both the public and private sectors. The SC has gone some way to righting a number of wrongs and is to be applauded for doing so, but much remains to be done.