By Aftab Mughal
18 January, 2007
President Pervaiz Musharraf’s slogan of enlightened moderation
and continuous efforts of civil society for equal rights for deprived
sections of society, the year 2006 didn’t bring any major change
in the lives of religious minorities, who have been experiencing continued
discrimination in their own motherland, Pakistan.
Once again Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz told minorities that the constitution guarantees them equal
rights. “But everyday practice is different. Minorities, who are
just 3 percent of the total population, have been facing prejudice due
to their belief and always living under certain pressure,” Nadeem
Anthony, a human rights activist told The writer.
During the year, twelve (12)
Churches, an Ahmadia Bait-ul-Zikr, five (5) Christian schools, one college,
a mission hospital, two (2) pastor houses and many houses of poor Christians
were attacked. At Jhando Sahi, ten (10) houses and two (2) shops belong
to Ahmadi community were attacked and ransacked. In one case, only four
(4) people were arrested but no one was convicted so far under these
heinous crimes. Furthermore, the Christians of Sangla Hill were forced
to engage into a peace agreement with those Muslims who attacked Christians
on Nov. 11, 2005, burnt and ransacked four (4) Churches, a Convent,
two (2) Christian Schools, a dispensary and two (2) Pastor's house along
with many Christian houses.
“The year 2006 has
seen a little change in the circumstances faced by minorities. We have
not been able to change subtle discriminations existing in the system
- education, curriculum, laws and other policies. Hate speech goes on
unchecked despite clamoring about the moderation and enlightenment,”
Peter Jacob, executive secretary of National Justice and Peace Commission
(NCJP) told The writer.
The effected people got very
little support from the law enforcement agencies. In many cases, police
supported the culprits openly. In Multan, three (3) Christian girls,
Samira, Naseem, and Bushra were kidnapped by Muslim landlords, Malik
Sadeeq ud Din, Chaudhry Tanveer and 4 anonymous people on Sep. 6, 2006.
Despite a First Information Report (FIR) having been registered against
the culprits, the Christian girls are still missing and no arrest has
been made yet. At the first attempt, Qutab Pura police refused to file
an FIR but through the intervention of the Additional Inspector General
Police, Multan, police registered the FIR on Sep. 11, after 6 days of
the occurrence of the incident. Due to Christians’ protests, police
called both parties at the police station, where the kidnappers claimed
that the girls had converted to Islam so they had no relationship with
their family. Even at that point girls were not produced. Ironically,
during the meeting, Muslim religious leaders allegedly blamed the Christians
that they had insulted Islam so they should be charged under the blasphemy
law. To please Muslim leaders, police arrested all Christians. After
few hours, police released them and advised them not to pursue the case.
A Christian boy, Arshad Masih,
was arrested by the police on charges of kidnapping a girl. He was allegedly
killed in police custody in Toba Tek Singh as a result of torture on
June 15. In another case, a young Hindu, Vicramdas Chirandas,14, and
his mother were severely beaten by the Hyderabad police in public and
in the police station as well on the charge of theft. According to the
complainant, Chirandas was not the culprit. Despite medical report of
his injury, he is not ready to complain against the police.
Majority of Christian, Hindu
and Sikh communities belong to poor class, so they are forced to live
in slums without the most basic amenities. In one incident, police,
in collaboration with Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), raided
the Christian slum in I-9 sector of the capital on Sep. 8 and took some
17 residents of the colony to the Police Station on charges of stealing
electricity. According to the residents they are forced to steal electricity,
saying their numerous requests to the Capital Development Authority
(CDA Islamabad) for regularizing their colony have fallen on deaf ears
of the authorities. The residents of the colony had settled here in
1987 but despite lapse of so many years they are condemned to live without
electricity, water and gas while right opposite to them stands a posh
I-9/1 sector where people are enjoying all the civic and health facilities.
The Christian colony consists of some 250 houses. Congested streets
and ill-planned houses characterize the colony. Heaps of garbage are
stacked at the back of the colony while an uncovered drain runs along
the piled-up garbage.
Minority candidates, often,
face discrimination in the educational institutions and also when they
apply for jobs. Ms Qandeel Benjamin, a Christian girl, was denied admission
to the King Edward Medical College (KEMC) due to discriminatory policy
for admission which allows 20 extra marks to the candidates having learnt
Quran by heart. She filed a case at Lahore High Court against the decision
to get relief.
The Catholic Archbishop Dr
Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore said, “Christians are now discriminated
against in Pakistan and majority of the country’s citizens consider
minorities to be second class citizens.”
In fact, the fate of all
minority groups is almost the same but Ahmadis are facing more pressure.
The violence and discrimination, especially hate material published
in the Urdu press, against the Ahmadis is still on the rise. An Ahmadi
doctor, Mujeebur Rehman Pasha was murdered in Sanghar on May 7. This
has increased the number of Ahmadi doctors killed in Sindh since 1984
to 11. An Ahmadi teacher, Munawwar Ahmed, in Gujrat was also killed
on Aug.24. Due to the intolerant atmosphere the Ahamadi community has
refuted the claims of the government on safeguarding the rights of minorities.
Due to their vulnerability,
it is easy to grab land of poor Christian and Hindus. These incidents
were mainly recorded in Punjab and Sindh. In such an incident, some
35 Hindu families of Lyari, Karachi, were forcibly evicted from a compound
in the month of October.
Beside some other reasons,
role of media and syllabus played a vital role against minorities’
inequality. A report issued on July 10 by a research group says that
the country’s education system has been biased and prejudiced
in history, politics, society and religion. It has been providing “controlled”
material to students, which, it says, has sown the seeds of hatred against
Minorities welcomed the government’s
recent decision to bring changes in the curriculum and delete the hate
material against religious minorities. “I hope new curriculum
will help to bring tolerance, humanism, equality and justice in the
society,” Professor Anjum Paul, president, Minorities Teachers
Association told The writer.
However, minorities have
still concerns about the role of the media. Professor Mushtaq Victor,
Minister of State for Minorities’ Affair raised this issue, recently,
during a TV talk show. He said, “When a Christian embarrasses
Islam, the media gives the news in a way which insults the Christianity.”
Furthermore, he said that press must play a responsible role in this
There is another positive
development that first time in the history of Pakistan a Sikh Cadet,
Harcharan Singh from Nankana Sahib, was commissioned into Pakistani
Army. Pakistan has a small community of Sikhs with a few dozen families
living in Punjab and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Moreover,
Dinesh, from Tharparkar district, is the first Hindu cadet in the Army.
There are 250 Christian and one parsi officers in military, according
to Shaukat Sultan, the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations.
Minorities have been raising
voice for those laws, which they feel are mainly used against them.
They had reservations about the Hudood Ordinance because it undermines
their right of witness. The government passed ‘Women Protection
Bill’ to bring changes in the existing law, while minorities still
have their doubts about it.
“The women protection
bill kept the discrimination of cases under Hudood to be heard by Muslim
Judges, yet the law applies to non-Muslim citizens as well. In general
the government and political parties needs to go beyond customary expressions
of goodwill, for that we need a truly democratic system in the country,”
Moreover, minorities are
also demanding for the total repeal of the blasphemy law, especially
Section 295-B & C of Pakistan Penal Code, which have been widely
misused against Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. In some cases, this
law is also misused by a Muslim against a Muslim. In one case, a Muslim
man, Abdul Sattar Gopang, accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
has been killed on June 16 inside Muzaffargarh court. According to the
police the attackers killed Gopang as their religious duty. Later on,
Muslim clerics refused to lead the funeral prayers of Gopang, terming
it a “great sin”.
In another incident, a Muslim
Imam, Hafiz Qamar Javed, accused of allegedly burning Holy Quran, was
killed by a mob on June 15 in Hasilpur.
During the year, blasphemy
cases were filed against mainly Ahmadis and Christians, most of them
poor illiterate people.
Police arrested two Christians,
James Masih, 65, and Boota Masih, 70, on Oct. 8 from Munir Park, Faisalabad
for allegedly burning pages of Holy Quran, despite the fact that their
accuser did not see them commit the act itself. Through a press conference
on Oct. 9, Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad urged the authorities
to conduct “a proper high level investigation” into this
case. He told the media, “These incidents show how vulnerable
Christians are in Muslim Pakistan.”
Despite calls for reform,
Ejaz-ul-Haq, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, has insisted that
even if 100,000 Christians lost their lives the blasphemy law would
not be repealed, the Sunday Telegraph reported on June 26. While at
the end of the year, Minister of State for Information Tariq Azeem said
that government may bring some possible amendments to the blasphemy
of Pakistan have been demanding for total repeal of blasphemy laws.
So government should repeal the law, which has been widely misused against
Christian, Hindus and Ahmadis,” says Group Capt (R) Cecil Chaudhry,
a Christian leader and human rights activist.
Along with the minority rights
efforts, there are individuals and groups, voicing for inter-faith dialogue
to make a harmonious society, where everyone should be treated equally.
Dr Tahirul Qadri of Minhajul Quran Mosques announced once, “Our
mosques will always be open for Christians.”
Furthermore, President Musharraf
told a Christmas gathering “We want you (minorities) to have equal
rights in the country,” he said.
Though governments often
make these positive statements, minorities have still serious concerns
about their rights. “Attacks on their worship places undermine
the confidence of Pakistani minorities. Which can’t be developed
by just verbal statements, but through pro-active measures,” Ijaz
Farhat advocate said.
While the next year would
be the year of elections, Jacob suggested that the religious minorities
would like to have more sound pledges from the contesting parties on
religious freedom and non-discrimination in the next elections. We would
like clear assurances that the political parties in the government as
well as opposition would not abuse religion for power at any point.
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