Blasphemy law in Pakistan – Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com
– Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com

Last week, Justice Dost Muhammad Khan of the Peshawar High Court declared that extra police security should be provided to the Hindu community in Peshawar, whose temple was recently vandalised. The ravaging of religious structures is but one way that minorities suffer rampant socioeconomic discrimination in Pakistan in silence. Thus, while the chief justice of the high court took a courageous step in requiring protection for minorities, there is a need for a new legislation, which can systematically address discrimination and provide remedies for injured minorities.

Lawyers and judges need to be able to cite to a well-defined legislation that prohibits and penalises discrimination in all spheres of life by private individuals and the government. As the court has recently quoted Khalil Gibran, justices and parliamentarians alike should reflect on his words: “safeguarding the rights of others is the most noble and beautiful end of a human being” and, in fact, it is an essential requirement for a government ruling a heterogeneous public.

Recently, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry pointed out that Article 20 of the constitution protects the right of minorities to “profess, practise and propagate his religion” and that each religious order shall have the right to manage their own institutions. Article 26 goes onto state that there shall be no discrimination based on religion in the access to public places of entertainment and Article 27 prohibits the same in the appointment in the service of Pakistan.

While these constitutional articles encompass sweeping normative statements, they do not operationally define discrimination, which has left the articles to not be enforced and allowed inequality to worsen. As such, it is well known that the criminal law system is manipulated to target minorities in a discriminatory manner with false cases, the most common of which are for allegations of “blasphemy.”

These cases are sometimes fabricated by members of the community to unjustly grab the victim’s property, or to eliminate them from competition for jobs or school placement. The UN special rapporteur recently stated that Pakistani judges had been coerced to convict individuals under the blasphemy law without proper evidence and that lawyers were targeted for representing minority clients.

More importantly, Saleem Khursheed Khokhar, a minority MPA, recently argued that there needs to be an “unprejudiced school curriculum,” that allows for children to learn according to their own religion or beliefs. Before the 1960’s, Islamic education was limited to one class per semester, but now a certain strain of Islam is propagated in every facet of the required curriculum, from languages to history. Even though such basic classes can be taught from an unprejudiced perspective, minority children are forced to feel uncomfortable during a crucial time in their intellectual development.

This form of education disenfranchises minorities and also allows for the majority to accept brutal acts of intolerance against them without any calls for justice. Not even the elites are safe, as evidenced by the lack of public outcry at the public assassinations of Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minority affairs, and Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab. Both men were gunned down for speaking against the discriminatory use of the blasphemy law, yet, the public seemed to congratulate the killer rather than mourn the victim. Therefore, it is clear why judges and public officials are silent on minority issues.

Police officers and civil servants are also threatened by the same extremist sectarian groups that target politicians and judges. These individuals cannot execute their job functions fairly because they lack the personal security to do so. If a police officer attempts to arrest a militant for targeting a minority, or if they provide security at a minority place of worship, they could be killed in the process. Therefore, minorities are left with no avenue for justice from politicians, police, judges, or lawyers.

Yet, there is a growing segment of the society that is becoming sensitive to the issues of minorities and others who have always maintained a belief in equality. While these opinions are drowned out by the voices of intolerance, there are many lawyers silently working to fight for the rights of minorities, and risking their lives for that cause. Law firms and advocates from across the country have taken on cases, often without payment, to assist minorities who have faced prejudice. Further, there are also judges like Justice Dost Muhammad Khan who are willing to sacrifice their personal safety in order to provide security to the Hindu community of Peshawar.

Yet, these lawyers and judges have been unable to bring justice to people with the current legal regime. Therefore, the parliament should bolster the courage of these individuals by enacting a comprehensive legislation that they can use to defend the rights of their minority clients. Such a law must define discrimination in all forms, and allow for minorities to file civil suits for monetary damages against any discriminator. If private individuals are monetarily punished for their discrimination, the society’s behaviour may change.

Further, there need to be steps taken to prohibit discrimination by state actors. Therefore, an administrative agency must be created whose sole purpose should be to adjudicate complaints of discrimination by the state actors. Minorities should be able to bring claims alleging discrimination in governmental or military hiring practices, or for the lack of equal education for minority children. The agency should be authorised to pass injunctive relief, where they can control the behaviour of the offending state actor and require a review of their decision.

The bill should also grant petitioners the ability to bring claims under the court’s original jurisdiction, as well as allowing the court to review the decisions of the administrative agency described above. The court will have to develop a standard by which to evaluate claims from minorities and weigh the evidence presented before them. This evolutionary process may take several years, but eventually, judges will be able to fairly assess the injury suffered by a minority and the proper remedy.

Also, a criminal bill should be introduced that defines and penalises hate crimes. Many nations around the world have enacted hate-crime statutes that enhance the punishment of a suspect if they committed their crime based on racial or religious bias.

Many will critique this policy recommendation, citing the fact that the State does not have the willpower or capacity to execute such laws. The chief justice of the Supreme Court recently asserted that the government has failed to execute the directives for equality in the constitution. This issue is far too important to become embroiled in the executive-judiciary controversy and a new law is needed to foster cooperation between the three branches.

The legislation would begin the long journey towards establishing equality of all citizens by creating new government agencies and allowing the court to remedy discrimination. Such a law would equip lawyers representing minority cases with even more legal precedence to invoke action from the court to remedy inequality and gross injustice. If nothing else, it could send a message that equality is a non-negotiable basis for the state of Pakistan, and all violators will be punished.


The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group

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Comments are closed.

Comments (36)

shaibi
June 4, 2012 1:53 pm
yes we agreed.
gulshan
June 3, 2012 4:18 pm
You mean all the Muslims from non Muslim countries ?
G.A.
June 3, 2012 12:35 pm
They just need to severely punish a handful of perpetrators and make an example out of them. This will enforce the law and act as a deterrence. Laws are only effective if punishments are carried out.
shankar
June 3, 2012 12:32 pm
I second that! When Shias and Ahmadi's are not spared, what chances do religious minorities have?
Ivar
June 3, 2012 5:21 pm
Your advice applies to shias as well?
raika45
June 4, 2012 1:51 pm
This article is a satire? If so a good one.Where bodyguards can kill their ministers who stood up for the rights of the minority, and in return get showered with rose petals, you are talking of a puny law?Who will enforce it? Does anybody have the guts to stand up to such hegemony? Overseas you muslims demand your rights, yet in your own country you deny others.Take a good look around Pakistan.Other than China with it's own vested self interests regarding India, you have no REAL good friends.Learn from ASEAN [association of south east nations] what friendship and goodwill is.We people of all religious followings live in peace and we progress and are called the tigers of Asia.
Agha Ata
June 3, 2012 2:13 pm
There is a lot of legislation prohibiting murders, too. Did it help? Why not?
Deep Abyss
June 3, 2012 12:03 pm
Pakistan is never going to get rid of its minority problem until it alters its status as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The fact that its an islamic republic is almost a liceense for the uneducated Mullahs and Taliban to discriminate and violate against the minorities. The government and people are no exception. No one ever brings up the Hindus and Christians of this country. Perhaps there's so many of other problems and even Muslims aren't even treated right by the govt in the first place.
Cyrus Howell
June 5, 2012 6:26 pm
Discrimination is a "One Way" street. Prejudice is a boulevard.
Concerned Netizen
June 4, 2012 12:50 pm
How is the writer risking his own life while being in US?
Gayatri
June 11, 2012 3:20 pm
Have you ever been to a forest? And noticed that all trees/ flowers/ animals/ are not homogeneous. That's nature and God's way- Society has to be plural to move forward., have diversity in ideas .There can never be one size fits all , religion is never binding factor as a nation.Keep friends near but Critics even "nearer". That's how checks and balances are ensured
mir salamat
June 4, 2012 9:22 am
yeah, no doubt, our society has become religiously intolerant and biased, some fanatic have held this country hostage at gun point and doing everything they want. no law exists to stop them from doing so, especially Hindus are soft targets for them, they are killing and forcing them migrate.
G. Barkat
June 5, 2012 3:46 am
Thank you Waris for writing this thought provoking article.
MNA KHAN
June 4, 2012 9:10 am
Quaid-E-Azam the founder of Pakistan was totally against the theocracy ( Mullah-ism). Mullah politicize the religion to take political millage.In other words they use religion to take the political benefits. Islam is basically a secular religion ( La Iqrah Fi Din) not a Theoretic ( Mullah-ism) Religion. When you not give all Pakistani Nationals an equal status, sectarianism will grow and Kafir making industry will grow. The majority sect will try to declare all other sect Non-Muslims to get full control over government. If you want to close this (Kafir-Making ) Non-Muslim producing industry to be close then please separate the Religion from State and give equal rights to all citizens of Pakistan as The founder of Pakistan's vision was.
Ghalzai
June 2, 2012 2:23 pm
Waris, Thanks for raising awaness on the plight of miniorities in Pakistan.
AGTG
June 2, 2012 5:48 pm
There won't be any solution till there is denial. Just be bold and declare that minorities don't have any place in this country. Let them sell whatever little they have here and deport them. Its good for everyone. At least their coming generation will live a better life and people will have one less reason to fight. Legislation are not going to solve it. Everyone knows that. So the real way you can help the minorities is to send them to other countries, send them alive I mean. Teaching people to live peacefully with others or forcing them to do this by law is never going to work we all know. Peace be upon minorities...
Thind
June 2, 2012 5:50 pm
Being minority is no fun...I am one and have been in all countries I have lived in! My POV...there will be no minority religion left in Pakistan, so no legislation required. Think about it! It is the mandate after all. Stats are there to prove it. Also, Khalil Gibran is right but the catch is 'heterogenous'. I am from India, and sometimes really wonder if diversity is actually helpful for growth.
Johnny
June 2, 2012 6:21 pm
It is interesting to note that concerns for minorities in Pakistan is expressed in majority by those people who themselves are minority in western countries....... It is high time for somebody from Pakistani soil stand up and speak
NASAH (USA)
June 2, 2012 8:04 pm
Stay safe Waris Husain -- we want to continue to read your courageous columns.
Cyrus Howell
June 4, 2012 5:23 pm
Divide and conquer.
Cyrus Howell
June 4, 2012 5:25 pm
Not a bad idea.
Romi
June 3, 2012 1:50 am
Only people with low self-esteem and lacking confidence in themselves will attack minority religions. Instead of preaching the Quran to them, it would be better to raise their esteem and make them feel secure with themselves.
BRR
June 3, 2012 2:07 am
You will not see that happen. People who believe everyone else is wrong, and they are superior to others, will not have the wherewithal to admit that, not allow others to believe otherwise.
dhiraj garg
June 3, 2012 6:00 am
if law is the solution of any problem then make thousands of such laws and finally do make one last law to make it binding to enforce all the existing laws!!! unfortunately no law is enforced or used by itself but rather by human beings who are driven by their morals, ethics and values. so where should we emphasis the stress - on laws or on values?
ali
June 3, 2012 6:27 am
My advice to minorities is to leave.
Ajaya K Dutt
June 3, 2012 6:30 am
It is very heartening to read about those who risk their own lives to speak against the persecution of vulnerable. They earn the utmost gratitude of humanity and divinity.
Naseema Perveen
June 3, 2012 9:17 pm
minorities where ever they are should be given proper rights,
Dr.asad
June 3, 2012 10:54 pm
Discrimination should be talked after justice. Bcz,both are quite close to each other. In Pakistan one can hardly expect equality. So need of hour is that social and legal system should be based on firm foundation of justice. These targets can only be achieved via qualitative education system. Bcz the educated mind would be harder to mould by millennerian doctrines. This would give path to tolerance, which is basic pillar of pluralism and social harmony.
Kris Ramani
June 3, 2012 11:04 pm
Why? Why and Why. Leave your place of birth, your own country because Religious fanatics want them to be out? Or is it that Alah will solve the problem very soon.
Hamza
June 4, 2012 4:01 am
This should have rather been titled 'a decree to assure religious freedom'. Whatever it is though, a brilliant piece.
BRR
June 4, 2012 5:15 am
Don't worry, they will be gotten rid of eventually - the majority will ensure that.
Malone
June 4, 2012 8:39 pm
All problems in Pakistan, especially those that have to do with religion, are ascribed to Zia ul Haq, even by the educated elite. As if the rest of the country were just sheep following orders. Until and unless the Pakistani majority wakes up to admit that there is somethng fundamentally wrong in their concept of a nation, there is no hope for the minorities, and hence the nation itself.
sumon
June 4, 2012 5:51 am
Is this the advice for Muslim also who are minorities in other countries?
irfan ahmed
June 4, 2012 9:23 pm
Agreed. There is no way to avoid discrimination. This means that Muslims can rule themselves anyway they like. As far as the issue of Muslims who are minorities in other countries, it is for those countries to pursue whatever policy they want. Pakistan should say nothing about them whether in Palestine or UK or India.
dhiraj garg
June 4, 2012 11:19 am
but then why no Islamic country including pakistan is secular if islam is secular ??? and then why no muslim in the world is opposed to this situation - non secular islamic country?? or you want to say , muslims in this world don't understand islam themselves??
Sonia
June 5, 2012 5:55 am
Thank you for writing this piece. Indeed it is an academic suggestion but my experience of being a Non Muslim informs that radicalization is deeply penetrated, be it in a state institutions or public domain. There is a strong fear among Non Muslims and unfortunately i dont see that we will be able to enjoy unity in diversity amid these circumstances. Above all, vigilantes and radical cleric have lots of street power and state protection.
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