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‘Religious discrimination harms Pakistan, defies Quaid’s vision’

‘Religious discrimination harms Pakistan, defies Quaid’s vision’

ISLAMABAD: Faith based prejudices have existed in Pakistan since the birth of the country and only deepened during Gen Ziaul Haq’s missionary rule, and after the 9/11 attacks on America, reveals a recent survey of religious minorities.

Titled ‘Living in fear: Pakistan’s unequal citizens’, the report was prepared by the Asia Foundation and the Pattan Development Organization and launched at the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services on Tuesday.

“More than 95 percent of the respondents said all citizens should be treated equally,” the report said, adding that 80 percent of Muslim respondents thought the constitution guarantees that equality.

“But as many as two-third Muslims, non-Muslims, officials and MPs thought that the state officials responsible [for protecting] non-Muslim minorities were not doing their job responsibly.”

These findings referenced the resolution the National Assembly passed in August, recommending that the speech that the Quaid-e-Azam made in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947 be “regarded as a road map” for the country’s future.

In that speech, the founder of the nation had declared that all citizens will be equal in the Pakistan, and that their religious beliefs had “nothing to do with the state”.

In this context, the report cited a few instances of religious discrimination since the birth of Pakistan. It recalled that Satya Prakash Singha, leader of the then Punjab Christian League, became the first Speaker of the Punjab Assembly after independence, because he had supported the creation of Pakistan.

But he resigned the next day after an editor wrote in the biggest Urdu-language newspaper that he never imagined that a non-Muslim would occupy that office in Pakistan. And his resignation was accepted instantly.

Then there is the sad story of Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner. Pakistan did not acknowledge the honour until India did, and Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi invited him and greeted him by touching his feet.

Many countries invited Dr Salam after that, but religious zealots won’t let his home country honour him because he was Ahmadi. Agitators prevented his appearance at Quaid-e-Azam University and Punjab University – and his alma matar, the Government College Lahore did not bother to take notice of his presence when he visited Pakistan in December 1979.

In contrast, Dr Salam turned down offers of citizenship from advanced countries and wished to be buried in native Pakistan and remembered as a Muslim. Though the first part of his wish was fulfilled, a magistrate ruled that the word ‘Muslim’ in the inscription on his gravestone identifying him as ‘the first Muslim Noble Laureate’ be sanded off.

Nowadays, the religious minorities in Pakistan suffer even worse, according to the 1,500 respondents surveyed in the report.

“Muslim parents object if their children are seated next to non-Muslim children in school,” said the father a Hindu student in Multan.

An Ahmadi teacher from Faisalabad said: “If neighbours find out that it is an Ahmadi family, they won’t eat with us and avoid inviting us.” Another Ahmadi said that a notice at the Hafiz Shopping Centre in Lahore states that ‘Ahmadis cannot do business here’. A Muslim businessman in Islamabad told the surveyors that Ahmadis should declare themselves non-Muslims instead of insisting that they are Muslims.

In 2014, the report says, 11 temples and churches were attacked in 144 incidents of sectarian violence across Pakistan.

A mob burned a Christian couple to death in Kot Radha Kishen in Punjab for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. Around 157 families belonging to religious minorities were displaced from Fata.

It quotes Nadra, reporting that 3.3 million adult Hindus, 2.8 million adult Christians, over 40,000 Baha’is, 20,000 Sikhs and 3,000 Kalash people live in Pakistan.

Eighty percent of the respondents demanded repeal of all discriminatory laws, including the blasphemy law. The report recommends that textbooks be emptied of all hate material and district administrations, police and court officials sensitized to the rights of non-Muslims.

Other recommendations are: a five per cent job quota for non-Muslims, and political parties should abolish their minority wings and award 10 per cent of party tickets in elections to non-Muslims.

Writer Dr Ravish Nadeem said translating the report from English to Urdu was a traumatic experience. “I feel we don’t have much positive to show to the world. Whatever positive remains there is also at stake,” he said. “There is more need to implement the (counter-terrorism) National Action Plan in urban areas of the country than in remote areas. Only that is how extremism can be eradicated,” he added.

Pattan Development Organization National Coordinator Sarwar Bari told Dawn that it was observed during the survey that the blasphemy law has created difficulties for minorities. “Over 80 per cent people of Pakistan are convinced that blasphemy law is being used against minorities but politicians are not ready to talk about it,” he said.

Senate Deputy Chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, who was the chief guest, said that terrorists have no religion so religion should not be blamed for terrorism.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2015

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