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Discrimination Continues

By Aftab Mughal

18 January, 2007

Despite 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.

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 regard.

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,” Jacob said.

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 law.

“Religious minorities 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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