Friday, March 17, 2023

Freedom of Religion and the Minorities in Pakistan

Freedom of Religion

Before Pakistan was formed, minorities supported the establishment of Pakistan because it was and is their homeland and they also spoke of equal rights like other Muslim citizens. The Christian nation had a better relationship with Quaid-e-Azam than ever before because he was a secular thinker and wanted to see Pakistan as a secular state and freedom of all religions.

For the first time during the Second Round Table Conference in 1931, the Christian community of India, apart from the Sikhs, reached to an agreement under the supervision of Sir Agha Khan to find a solution to the problem of minorities. The treaty was signed on behalf of Christians by Sir Henry Gidney and Sir Herbert Carr. The agreement is also known as the joint practical struggle of minorities during the independence movement. On December 22, 1939, when “Yom e Nijat” was celebrated on the resignation of Muslim representatives in Congress ministries at the call of Quaid-e-Azam in protest of upper caste Hindu policies, the Congress was surprised to see that “Yom e Nijat” was not only celebrated by Muslims but Parsis, Hindus, Christians and millions of Scheduled Castes also participated.

On March 23, 1940, when the Muslim League presented a landmark Pakistan resolution in Lahore, Alfred Prashad, RA Gomez and SS Albert also participated.

Apart from them, many other minority leaders were invited as observers. The crushed minorities sided with the Quaid-e-Azam at every step because they knew that only in Pakistan would their rights be protected.

While the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly Dewan Bahadur SP Sangha belonged to the Christian community who played an important role in making Pakistan Resolution possible by casting their additional votes in favor of the resolution in Punjab Assembly.

The establishment of Pakistan was based on a two-nation ideology in which the protection of the rights of non-Muslims was an important point of Islam but unfortunately the role of minorities and the facilities provided to them were diminished over time due to religious propaganda.

After the secession of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971, the minority population in Pakistan dropped to 3%. In the 1998 census, the minority population increased from 3% to 3.72%, which returned to 3.53% in 2017. These 15 years have seen a 0.19% decline in the total number of minorities, most of whom are Christians and Qadianis. The reason for the decline in the minority population has not been officially stated, nor has the media reported any investigative news.

According to Pakistan Hindu Council the largest minority population in Pakistan is Hindus, numbering about 8 million although the Pakistan Census 2017 claims that the total number of Hindus is 4.44 million.

Minorities face most blasphemy laws in Pakistan In the last 33 years, nearly 1855 people have been charged with blasphemy, and those that have been reported do not include all the incidents that have been reported. Minorities did not report for fear of being killed.

Following the accusation of blasphemy, the response in Pakistan has been to vandalize and set fire to churches and temples, and on several occasions even minority settlements have been set on fire.

On the other hand, the second major problem of minorities is conversion, which is most prevalent among young girls who are encouraged to convert by dreaming good dreams.

According to a report by the Human Rights Commission, there are 1,000 cases of forced religion conversion of girls under the age of 18 in Pakistan every year. And the majority of them belong to the Hindu religion. In the last decade, 55 Christian girls from Punjab have been converted to other religion.

The state of Pakistan has always faced difficulties in enacting laws for the rights of minorities, largely due to the disagreement of religious parties with bills and reports in favor of minorities.

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly passed the Minorities Bill in 2016 approved by a majority vote, which would make it a crime for children under the age of 18 to convert.

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In 2020, the federal cabinet set up the National Minorities Commission six years later, despite a Supreme Court order, the main purpose of the Minority Commission is to provide religious freedom to minorities and to take steps to make them a full-fledged part of the national mainstream.

However, the recent incident like conversion of underage girls in Sindh and the attack on a temple in Bhong Sharif is still a testament to the fact that the state of Pakistan and the majority still treat minorities as unequal citizens.

Pakistan’s media is also reluctant to talk about minorities. Pakistani media never reported on the issues of minorities, even in government houses there is a reluctance to talk about the rights of minorities.

Dr. Tauseef Ahmed, former head of the Department of Mass Communication of the Federal Urdu University, said in an interview to the international media that, “The issue of forced conversion of Hindu and Christian communities in Sindh and Punjab is not even discussed by Urdu media and especially on TV channels, the second issue is discrimination, which is constitutional, legal and traditional, it is also not debated because not all citizens have equal rights in the constitution and if anyone demands it, it is not highlighted”.

Freedom of Religion
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Laws have been made, commissions have been made, bills have been passed, but the incidence of minorities has not decreased. The main reason for this is ideological, from gatekeepers to sub-editors and reporters, the curriculum that has been developed under General Zia-ul-Haq, which is based on religious fanaticism and contempt for other religions, needs to change.

Talking about and advocating for the rights of minorities in Pakistan has become such a symbol of fear that even the state of Pakistan fails to enact new commissions for the rights of minorities, the biggest example of this is the speech of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah on August 11 in Pakistan could not be made a part of the constitution and curriculum, that what is the plan in the mind of the founder of the state, what kind of state does he want to make it?

“You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques and to any of your places of worship in the state of Pakistan, you belong to any religion, caste or race the state has nothing to do with it”.

But there has always been opposition in parliament to making the speech part of the curriculum and the constitution.

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The minority is the most oppressed class in Pakistan and the state of Pakistan will have to take strict measures for the development and betterment of this class. Above all, there is a need to change the hate curriculum in Pakistan and also the constitution for the rights of minorities needs to be amended.

Today, all government sectors in the country, including the armed forces, the police, the railways and most of all the medical institutions minorities are playing their part best in the development of the country. But still they do not all feel safe.

The solution to the problems of minorities will come only by talking about the problems of minorities. The government of Pakistan should take suggestions from them for solving the social problems of minorities in Pakistan and make them part of the constitution so that Pakistani minorities feel safe and participate equally in the development of the country.

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