Amnesty International, in its recent annual report, has berated Pakistan for its ignominious record on the rights of minorities. The report laments that “religious minorities continued to face laws and practices that resulted in their discrimination and persecution. Abuses connected with the blasphemy laws occurred regularly during the year as demonstrated in several high profile cases”.
Another international human rights body, Human Rights Watch (HRW), also lambasted Pakistan on the same account in its World Report 2015. The report underlined the plight of minorities by saying that “Pakistan’s government did little to stop the rising toll of killings and repression by extremist groups that target religious minorities”. It further reads “the government is failing at the most basic duty of government — to protect the safety of its citizens and enforce rule of law. Institutionalised discrimination fostered violent attacks on religious minorities”.
The annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) only reinforced the above. It notes that “Pakistan’s record in protecting members of its religious and sectarian minorities from faith-based violence and discrimination has been far from impressive in recent years. In fact, the year under review saw continuation of the recent trend of violence and impunity that seemed to reinforce each other. The growing problems for the minorities came from extremist militant groups seeking to justify violence and brutalities in the name of religion. Secondly, the challenges came from the local factors; and finally, from the government’s failure to protect members of minority religions and sects from faith-based violence or to confront hate speech, intimidation or intolerance. This year also nothing was done to weed out discrimination against non-Muslim citizens written into law or to introduce safeguards widely acknowledged to be needed in order to prevent abuse of the blasphemy law”.
While reports of national and international human rights bodies are conveniently dismissed by some sections, the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s views must be heeded in this regard. In a suo moto case regarding Peshawar Church attack incident, the Supreme Court echoed the same concerns in its verdict issued in June 2014. The verdict reads “we find that the incident of desecration of places of worship of minorities could be warded off if the authorities concerned had taken preventive measures at the appropriate time.”
These observations on indolence and criminal inaction of authorities evoke the memories of the horrendous Joseph Colony incident of 2013 when a violent mob torched a Christian neighbourhood. The Punjab government admitted in the Supreme Court that the police had deliberately avoided engaging a charged and violent mob lest it snowballed into a national crisis had a Muslim been killed in the scuffle. The police also admitted that their commanding officer took refuge in a godown when the miscreants pelted them with stones. The cowardice of the police paved the way for setting ablaze more than 150 houses of the hapless Christian community by an insane swarm.
In the aforementioned verdict, the court also asked the government to establish a special police force with professional training to protect the places of worship of minorities. The court order just added one more in the long queue of yet-to-be implemented instructions.
Such kind of apathy on part of successive governments has left the minorities at the mercy of mauling mobs.
Oodles of references can be cited from the Constitution of Pakistan that proffer explicit guarantees to protect the rights of non-Muslim citizens. Article 20 reads “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions”. Article 21(1) stipulates “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.”
The role of state has been categorically explained in Article 36, saying “the State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities.” Jinnah’s August 11 speech is a much repeated promise of the founder of Pakistan, which is violated ab initio.
In spite of constitutional and religious stipulations, minorities are constantly demonised and persecuted by a self-proclaimed sanctimonious brigade. Sectarian and religious minorities are incessantly stalked and maltreated. It is practised brazenly and justified through outrageous misinterpretations of religion. In a stunning interview, head of a proscribed group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Maulana Ludhyanvi, did not mince a word to declare Shias as infidels by invoking edicts of unnamed clerics. He unambiguously endorsed the decree that declared Shias as infidels. Ahmadis and Bahais were already declared non-Muslim in the constitution of 1973.
A known liberal and progressive Bhutto could not withstand the commotion of political clerics and resorted to ostracism of Ahmadis and Bahais to appease and lure enraged religious parties. Whereas the Constitution generously guarantees rights of minorities, it has a glaring paradox on the right to hold the offices of the president and the prime minister. Article 25 of the Constitution promises that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. Yet in the subsequent clauses non-Muslims are denied the right to become president or prime minister of Pakistan. This untenable contradiction is incomprehensible.
Minorities genuinely impugn the rhetoric of equal citizenship. Mania for an Islamic state and obsession with pan-Islamism has generated a whirlwind that has made life parlous for sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan. Those who have arrogated for themselves the guardianship of Islam are completely callous towards the rights of other Pakistanis as enshrined in Islam and the Constitution. They misconstrue and distort scriptures to vilify people with different faith. They legitimise extermination of minorities under flimsy excuses. From text books to pulpits, every mean is used to proliferate hate speech against minorities.
As a corollary to that, minority people are savagely targeted under unverified accusations. This vulnerability is exploited by other vested interest groups as well. There are instances when land grabbers used the decoy of blasphemy charges to evict minority communities from their ancestral abodes. Extortionists, abductors and land mafia orchestrated similar episodes to dislodge minority communities.
Desperate to emigrate, the minority communities often had to auction their prime properties to these mafias on low prices.
Religiosity, used by the establishment for decades as a foreign policy tool, has now afflicted the whole spectrum of society. India-centric foreign policy adopted since the formative years and Afghan jihad in the subsequent years have injected the venom of extremism across generations. The jihad mania has thrived on hatred for Hindus and other religious and sectarian minorities.
Official textbooks have been emblazoned with contemptuous pejoratives for Hindus to glorify an elusive two-nation theory. Invaders and plunderers are extolled as heroes of Islam. On the other hand, sectarian seminaries fuel acrimony for opposite sects. This fire of religious and sectarian animosity has insidiously engulfed every nook and corner of the country converting it into a fireball.
The authority of the State is withering with every passing moment. Consequently, the susceptibility of minorities is spiralling. Frequent grisly incidents continue to heap torment and trauma on their lives. Minorities are flagrantly ostracised and reviled by their compatriots. Thousands of their families have emigrated and the remaining ones are breathing under a perennial despair for their posterity. This treatment meted out to minorities has not just alienated them but has also blotted the image of the country among the civilised international community.