KARACHI: Even as the number of incidents against minorities increase at an alarming rate, there seems to be no mention of protecting their rights in electoral campaigns of political parties, said Karamat Ali, the executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), on Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference with a consortium of civil rights’ organisations at the Karachi Press Club, Mr Ali said: “So far, none of the political parties have come up with any concrete solutions to counter the discrimination non-Muslims face.” Speaking calmly but firmly, he said that he won’t refer to non-Muslims as ‘minorities’ as he felt that it was a “derogatory term”.
He pointed out that none of the political parties had given tickets to farmers or labourers which said a lot about the prevalent power structure. “The number of reserved seats for non-Muslims has remained the same throughout the years, even when the seats in the national and provincial assemblies have increased,” said Mr Ali.
Moving on from political structures, he then spoke about class structures within the Hindu community, which he said kept the lower or sub-castes in deplorable conditions.
Social activist Dr Bimra Jesrani spoke about continued forced conversions in Sindh. He said that the cases were highlighted for a few days but pushed to oblivion afterwards, adding that it did not mean the incidents were not happening any longer.
Referring to the case of Rinkle Kumari, he said that her mother was still waiting for her daughter to come back. “She’s always stressed and is gradually getting unstable psychologically,” he added. He demanded that the case be reopened with the help of an independent commission.
Coming back to elections, another activist Avinash Hari said that as long as people like Veeru Kohli came forward and contested elections, there would be hope. “Politicians with a feudal mindset know that such people, if given a chance, will demand constitutional reforms as well as ask questions, which will go against them,” he said.
Giving an example of the recent attacks on Muslims in Burma, Mr Hari said that when we did not learn from history, it repeated itself. “Globally, these attacks have a ripple effect,” he said. “Today we might be discriminating against someone but it might happen to us too.”
Piler chief Ali presented 14 demands made by the consortium, among which the most prominent demand was amending the Blasphemy Laws. Elaborating the demand, he said: “All we are asking is to amend the way in which a blasphemy case is filed. It would be helpful to a lot of people.”
He said that an amendment was to be made in the law during the tenure of former president Pervez Musharraf, in which a blasphemy case wouldn’t be registered at a police station unless an SP or SSP was present. However, he said, the amendment ‘got lost in translation’.
Another demand of the group pertained to hate speech. A member of the Urban Resource Centre said that efforts for controlling hate speech should begin from school textbooks.
Activist Riaz Nawab of the Karitas Pakistan said that the need was to be very clear about what hate speech was and take a stance against its spread.