Shrinking space for minorities
National Minorities Day was celebrated on August 11 in order to highlight the services, sacrifices and contributions of minorities in the creation of Pakistan. Unfortunately, August 11 went by silently, except for being celebrated by the minorities themselves. The reason: our mainstream national media seemed inclined towards highlighting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan’s azaadi (freedom) march and Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Tahirul Qadri’s inqilab (revolution) march. This is why National Minorities Day was forgotten.
What is more pathetic is to find that both leaders did not issue statements about the minorities on their national day, nor did they discuss them in their addresses to the public, showing a lack of commitment and interest of the leaders towards the minorities, whether they are part of the government or not. Day by day, atrocities against the minorities are increasing in the land of the pure. August 11 is due to the tireless efforts and sacrifices of the slain former minister for minorities, the late Shahbaz Bhatti. He was gunned down in March 2011 in Islamabad. He was an advocate of amending the blasphemy laws in which the minority communities are usually accused. It is due to Mr Bhatti’s efforts and sacrifice that August 11 is celebrated as National Minorities Day for the last five years.
What is more significant, however, is that the day of August 11 is when our founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, delivered his notable speech about minorities. On August 11, 1947, he said, “You are free. 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. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has got nothing to do with the business of the state.” But right wing writers and commentators of the country negate this. For instance, Orya Maqbool Jan, the well-known right wing commentator and writer wrote in one of his articles that Jinnah’s August 11 speech was fabricated by the country’s evil secularists. According to him, Jinnah never delivered such a speech.
Pakistan’s minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Ahmedis and Sikhs, all live under siege at the hands of religious fanatics. As far as the Christians, Ahmedis and Sikhs are concerned, they live in great numbers in Pakistan’s Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Hindus are clustered in the other two remaining provinces, Sindh and Balochistan. But in all places they are facing the same disturbing situation. In Punjab, Christians and Ahmedis increasingly find themselves being accused of blasphemy. A Christian, who was a resident of Joseph Colony in Lahore, was accused of blasphemy by his Muslim friend Shahid Imam in March 2013 after quarrelling with him. Following the accusation a frenzied mob attacked the entire Joseph Colony and torched more than 200 houses and two churches.
Similarly, in recent months, three female members of the Ahmedi community were killed by a mob over blasphemy. The dead included a 55-year old woman and her two granddaughters, aged seven years and eight months respectively. According to the police, the assault occurred after a 22-year-old Ahmedi man allegedly posted a blasphemous image on his Facebook wall, sparking an argument with neighbours belonging to the majority Sunni branch of Islam.
Besides being victims of blasphemy allegations, they (the Christians and Ahmedis) have also been bombed wholesale in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while performing their religious duties in their sacred places. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recently found that 430 members of religious minorities were killed and 773 injured in 122 attacks between July 2013 and June 2014 in Pakistan. During that period, 128 Christians were killed and 185 were injured in 22 attacks.
Also, the Sikh community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is displeased with the government for not paying heed to their issues and bringing the perpetrators who have been targeting their community members to book. This is why they demand that the government provide security to them because they are also equal citizens of the state: “Our elders had sacrificed for Pakistan yet they are considered refugees. Despite the constitution guaranteeing complete rights to the minorities, governments have not implemented it, which has put them in trouble and backwardness.” These were comments by Sikh participants while speaking at the seminar ‘Stop violence against minorities’ organised by the Commission for Peace and Minorities Rights (CPMR) in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Additionally, a Hindu population of almost two million is clustered in Pakistan’s two provinces Sindh and Balochistan. From 1960 onwards, Hindus have been living in a nightmarish situation. The atrocities against them further escalated when, after 1960, school textbooks were altered. They fostered prejudices against minority communities, particularly the Hindus. Besides other tribulations, gradually and slowly, forced conversions of both mature and immature Hindu girls also began to take place in Sindh. This was during the tenure of then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s. And to this day it continues.
As far as Balochistan’s Hindus are concerned, atrocities against them commenced in the 1990s due to the incident of Babri Masjid (Mosque) in India. That is why their temples, houses and shops were set ablaze, causing financial and physical losses to them. In recent months, 45 Hindu families had to leave their hometown of Machh, where they had been living for ages, because of the threat of extortionists, kidnappers and the sceptical behaviour of the youth towards them. Similar migrations of Hindus from Khuzdar, Kalat, Mastung and Loralai districts of Balochistan have been reported since 2006.
The situation differs when it comes to Hindus living in Dera Bugti. A national daily reported recently that an exodus of 13,000 Hindus and around 10 Sikh families occurred from Dera Bugti when former General Pervez Musharraf ordered the military operation against Balochistan’s former chief minister, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s Hindus have either migrated to India or they are moving from pillar to post to find a safe place inside the country. A member of the ruling PML-N, Dr Ramesh Kumar, told the National Assembly of Pakistan that around 5,000 Hindus are migrating from Pakistan to India every year. And on the other hand, thousands of Christians and Ahmedis have also migrated silently to Thailand and Sri Lanka, as these countries offer cheap airfare. It is because of these reasons that minorities face a shrinking space in the country. They are being treated as second grade citizens in spite of the constitution’s Article 25 that holds all citizens equal.