ISLAMABAD, July 3: The rights of South Asian minorities are being threatened and violated on a daily basis. The human rights issues these minorities are forced to confront with must be addressed by courts, law enforcement agencies and other institutions, sensitively and without discrimination.

These were the views of participants of the ‘Regional Conference on Rights of Religious Minorities in South Asia’ where speakers from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan spoke to the participants.

Pandat Channa Lal of Pakistan said the Pakistani government has never given importance to minorities. Pakistan has yet to have an ambassador who is non-Muslim, and a federal secretary that is Hindu or Christian. In addition, Hindus cannot be appointed to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, he added.

Lal said there is not a single religion that endorses terrorism, including Islam. Islam does not even have anything similar to a caste system, but unfortunately, Muslims are beginning to fall into one. In Sindh, it is common for Hindu girls to be kidnapped, and even during the floods of 2011 50 Hindu homes were looted.

“In 2011, Ravi Kumar from Quetta, was kidnapped for a ransom of Rs20 million. Soon after, he was murdered, as his family was unable to pay the captors. Following Kumar’s abduction, 500 families were forced to emigrate from Balochistan,” he said.

“Even leaders of the ruling party were involved in kidnapping girls in Sindh. Consequently, during Nawaz Sharif’s term as prime minister, Babri Mosque and over 400 temples were burnt all over the country. But we want it to be clear that the Hindu community will not leave the country at any cost,” he said.

Professor Dr Ram Puniyani from India said Muslims and Christians in India had been facing these crises for the last 30 years. However, they all believe in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, which is encouraging.

Puniyani also said violence against Muslims in India began in Jabalpur, but diffused into other parts of the country because the government was not a neutral body at the time.

“After the incident at Babri Mosque, people from Bangladesh wanted to march towards India. In India, Hindus claimed that they are fighting against Muslims because in Pakistan Muslims are fighting against Hindus,” he said.

J. Salik, former federal minister, said Pakistan became the country it is because of its religious minorities; however, according to the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, the President of Pakistan must be Muslim. Later, the 18th Amendment was passed, ordering that even the prime minister of the country must be Muslim.

“No one bothered to invite the minorities on board while politicians were discussing and debating the proposals for 18th Amendment. The United Nations should take notice and assure the implementation of minorities’ right in all countries,” he said.

Previous Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo of Sri Lanka said the issue of minorities’ rights was raised during the Guerrilla war against Tamils, because Tamils were divided into two classes as well. He said negotiation is the best way to resolve these issues. Dr Imtiaz of Bangladesh said there are misconceptions regarding Muslims and that they should be cleared. Right now, everyone is talking about Muslim involvement in terrorist activities, and the West says that changes should be made to the curriculum in seminaries, such as the curriculum in Madaris.

“In Chicago, engineers were found involved in terrorist activities but no one demanded that changes should be made to the curriculum of engineering,” Imtiaz said.

Both a Member of Parliament and the leader of PPP, Senator Zafar Ali Shah said the curriculum of the subcontinent used to be universal, but was changed after Partition.

“In Pakistan, our leaders did not create a discrimination-free Constitution to rule its people regardless of religion, but rather provided its people with two slogans to remember as citizens: ‘Islam’ and ‘Crush India’. We don’t have democratic political parties, and the heads of the parties have the rights to enforce their will and kick out party members,” he said.He also said women are being considered as ‘Shuders’ - a Hindi word that describes a person as low-cast - in all communities, and that is the reason for their fight for freedom, as well as the reason for a large number of Hindu females abandoning their religion. The number of males converting or abandoning their religion is less.

Human Rights activist Tahira Abdullah said both J. Salik and Pandat Channa Lal should have discussed the Hudood Ordinance, Blasphemy Law and Ordinance of Evidence for Women, but they did not dare talk about it.

Prof Samina Amin Qadir, Dr Martin Axmann and Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri also spoke to the participants.

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