Rights activists discuss violence against members of minority sects, faiths
Karachi How are sectarian tensions handled and laws applicable? How severe are the issues of hate speech and discrimination against minorities? These burning questions were discussed by the participants of a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expert group meeting on Tuesday. The meeting was held to talk about the problems faced by communities vulnerable because of their beliefs. Besides a number of human rights activists and academics, members of the Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi, Baha’i and Shia communities attended the meeting. The participants agreed that the use of religion in politics in the country was the major cause behind the discrimination and violence against minorities and growing threats to them had compounded because of the authorities’ failure to address the problem. IA Rehman, the HRCP general secretary, said the discrimination and violence faced by members of religious minority groups had steadily multiplied over the past few years in conjunction with the growing intolerance and militancy.
“After the Pakistani state started using religion for politics and so-called strategic interests, the division of the society on the basis of sectarianism started,” he said. “Even civil society groups are reluctant to discuss the killings and issues faced by Ahmadi and Shia communities because of fear,” he added. An Ahmadiyya community leader and lawyer said around 250 Ahmadi community members, most of them professionals including doctors, had been murdered in the country, 28 of them in Karachi. “With hate propaganda against the community intensifying with each passing year, literature encouraging the community’s boycott was being distributed with impunity in the country,” he added. “A separate voters list for Ahmadiyya community, even separating them from other non-Muslim communities, is the worst kind of discrimination and bigotry,” the community leader said. “Through such lists, Ahmadiyya community members have been singled out and rendered vulnerable to attacks.”
Giving an example of handling interfaith tension in the Pahar Ganj neighbourhood, Zahid Farooq, a rights activist, said the elders of the local Christian community had successfully resolved several incidents of charges of blasphemy by consulting Muslim clerics and influential figures in the area. Farooq said around 4,000 Pakistani Christians, some of them from Karachi, who had fled religious persecution, were stuck for the last two years. “The Pakistani government and civil society groups should intervene into the matter and assist them as most of them now want to return to Pakistan,” he added.
Some of the participants objected over the use of words “minority” and “Essai” during the meeting. A member of Zikri community said his fellow members had been living in fear. In August 2014, six Zikris were shot dead at their place of worship in Awaran district by unidentified assailants. In July of the same year, Zikris travelling in a bus were attacked in Khuzdar district of Balochistan. Seven of them were injured. “Neither did government help the community, not arrest the attackers,” he added. Discussing the situation of rural Sindh, academic Aijaz Qureshi said the province was witnessing rising incidents of violence against minorities. “Jihadist groups, which have been gaining in strength in recent years in rural Sindh, are delivering hate speeches, causing a rise in attacks on non-Muslims, especially Hindus,” he added. Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, an academic at the University of Karachi, said interfaith and intersect violence had also occurred in the past but did not influence the society and collective pressure had easily neutralised it.
“But now violence against communities vulnerable because of their faith is becoming mainstream and destroying the social fabric of the society,” he added. Ahmed said the State had formed jihadist groups in the past to use them in Afghanistan and Kashmir but after the proxy war, most of them were now operating on their own joining the international jihadist franchise, such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.Karamat Ali, the director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, said during the anti-Ahmadiyya movement in 1970s, trade unions in the city discouraged labourers from participating in protest strikes against the community by visiting their workplaces and neighbourhoods
A Shia woman, whose husband was killed six year ago because of his sect, shared her story and said the government had failed to prevent the killing of people on the basis of their religious and sectarian affiliation. “The killers of my husband are roaming freely and the State is unable to apprehend them,” she added. The participants stressed the need for arresting the perpetrators of violence against minorities and punishing them in accordance with the law.