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Quaid’s vision, minorities’ rights get spotlight at award ceremony

Quaid’s vision, minorities’ rights get spotlight at award ceremony

ISLAMABAD: Human rights activist Muhammad Dawood was awarded for the work he has been doing for the rights of minorities since 1990 at a ceremony here on Wednesday.

Mr Dawood from Quetta was among 20 rights activists who received the award ‘Human Rights Defender’ at the ceremony jointly organised by the Rights of Expression, Assembly, Association and Thought (REAT) in connection with the Minorities Day in collaboration with the Asia Foundation and the Netherlands Embassy.

Son of a trade unionist, Mr Dawood said that his father used to raise voice for the rights of labour.

“My father was arrested many times and spent months in jail. Had the workers, including Hindus, he fought for not come to our help, my family would have starved,” he told Dawn.

“I developed a soft corner for the minorities,” he said. “But a deeper change came into my life in 1992 when religious zealots protesting the demolition of Babri Mosque in India stormed the locality of Hindus in Quetta and burned their houses, killing seven Hindus.”

His very close friend Ashok Kumar lived there so he rushed to the place and was relieved to learn that Ashok and his wife managed to flee the mob.

“It was only later that we discovered the worse — the blaze burnt alive their 15-month-old daughter they had hidden in a wooden box, with a soother, for safety,” he recalled.

Ashok stayed with him for two years after the horrific incident and then moved to Lahore and finally migrated to India, he said.

“And I continue to work for the minorities’ rights to this day and will never give up,” said Mr Dawood, saddened that “tolerance level is decreasing in the country and the minorities feeling ever more insecure”.

Other award winners came from 10 districts across the country and belonged to 25 organizations working for the rights of minorities.

Among them was Mr Popat Kumar from Umerkot, Sindh, who has been promoting and protecting the rights of religious minorities. He has been mobilizing them to join the mainstream by participating in the electoral process.

Mr Popat has conducted voter education and training programmes on women rights, human rights, community mobilization and youth activism.

Similarly, award-winner Mr Noorul Hassan Shah from Chiniot, has been working for human rights for last 30 years but focusing on equality.

Chairperson National Commission for Human Rights, retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan said on the occasion that freedom of expression was a God-given right but also a natural law.

God allowed Satan to explain why he disobeyed Him and Moses exercised that freedom while speaking up to Pharaoh, he said, emphasising that “freedom of expression is part of the natural law and no one can take it away”.

Justice (retired) Chohan said the rights of minorities must be honoured as the Quaid-i-Azam said the “minorities can live and practice their religion according to their belief”.

But the Quaid’s vision was distorted during the missionary regime of Gen Ziaul Haq and the West chose to overlook that for its own interests, according to him.

“However, the defenders of human rights have resurrected that vision and the obscurantist who have been trying to bury the ideology of Quaid-i-Azam been exposed,” he said.

Retired Justice Chohan stressed that societies need learned persons for the guidance but unfortunately so-called “religious scholars” have been polluting the minds of people.

“It is wrong that there is any conspiracy against Islam. We have to protect the ideology of the Quaid. Countries like Malaysia are secular but people are practicing their religion,” he said.

The government is aware of the situation of minorities and human rights in the country and was undertaking legal and administrative reforms to cope with the challenges ahead, he added.

On the occasion, retired Justice Nasira Javed Iqbal launched the book ‘Ripple Effect’ compiled on success stories of conflicts resolution by REAT Network.

She said: “the Ripple Effect will lead to a tidal wave and wash away terrorism and religious intolerance” from the country. She said there is need to reform curriculum which discriminate against the minorities.

First Secretary Political Affairs in Embassy of Kingdom of the Netherlands Nana Stolze expressed her concern about the many human rights challenges Pakistan faces.

She said: “Religious minorities are not a concept, they are a fact. Minorities are not enjoying the same freedom and privileges or rule of law as their fellow countrymen.”

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2015

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