KARACHI: The National Assembly has given only 15 out of more than 1,000 hours during the 130-day proceedings of full sessions to issues concerning religious minorities since the last year general elections, it emerged on Saturday.

“Lawmakers talked that little for religious minorities despite sitting for 130 full days in more than a year,” said Shahnaz Sheedi of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) while briefing journalists about performance of the assembly in resolving minorities issues.

Know more: NA agrees to form fact-finding committee on attacks against minorities

Hardly 10 times, she added, issues pertaining to religious minorities in Pakistan were raised and discussed. That negligible time was given to the Hindu and Christian communities after attacks on churches, temples and gurdwaras in different parts of the country, the killing of lawmakers in the name of religion and uproar ensued in the wake of those incidents, she explained.

The journalists were informed that even the national assembly that took oath under the constitution, which guarantees protection to religious minorities, failed to implement any ‘worthy decision on rights of the minorities’.

“In the wake of terrorist attacks on religious places of the religious minorities, two resolutions had been passed in the assembly but not a single terrorist was apprehended as yet,” it was said.

Although non-Muslims comprised one quarter of Pakistan’s population when the country came into being, their numbers rapidly depleted soon afterwards, and at present they accounted for just four per cent of the population, the journalists were informed.

Ravi Davani, an activist for religious minorities rights, said most non-Muslims migrated elsewhere, India in particular, and the rest lived with basic rights being denied to them.

He said the marriage act had still not finalised and after 18 amendment it was handed over to provincial assemblies for further consideration. He added that even courts had failed to provide justice in cases of forced marriages and conversion.

A study publishd by the Jinnah institute, which graphically described the harrowing plight of the country’s religious minorities, was later shared with the media.Mr Dhavani said in schools even Hindu students had to read books containing material based on hatred against their own religion. The lawmakers from religious minorities had to take the same oath as was being taken by the Muslim members, he added.

The issue of forced conversion of Hindu girls at certain seminaries in Sindh was highlighted. “Most of the girls forcibly converted to Islam were below 18 years, which too was against the law of the land. Even in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, both the parents are mandatory to be present if their children want to convert,” said a participant in the meeting.

It was said that Hindu lawmakers were afraid of raising these issues in the house, fearing for their life. While no member from the minority communities had been inducted in the electoral reforms committee formed in the National Assembly.

Comrade Rochiram, rights activist and lawyer, said the constitution did not allow the religious minorities to attain the highest positions as any Muslim could enjoy in Pakistan.

He said the rulers performed their Islamic rituals and Hajj on the money collected through taxes including those collected from non-Muslim communities.

Rafia Gulani said the issues of forced marriages and conversion of Hindu girls was exacerbating.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2014

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