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State blamed for complicity in persecution of minorities

Updated October 04, 2014
File photo
File photo

ISLAMABAD: Successive governments not only failed to contain religious-based violence and amend the controversial blasphemy law, but many state functionaries were also involved in hate crime, a survey carried out by an Islamabad-based think tank showed.

The findings revealed that discrimination against minorities was connected with the overall inequality and government inattention, lack of effective protection accorded by the state against violence, intimidation and intolerance.

The survey, “Minority rights in Pakistan: historic neglect or state complicity?” conducted by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) stated that the most common tool of persecution against non-Muslim communities and even the Muslims in many cases was the allegation of blasphemy.

The survey also covered the other forms of discrimination, including opportunities for seeking jobs. Around 73 per cent of the respondents belonging to non-Muslim minority communities in Sindh said they experienced discrimination due to their religious believes.

This was followed by 50 per cent of respondents in KP, 31 per cent in Balochistan and 29 per cent in Punjab.

When asked, “Do you think the government caters to your needs as much as it does to the followers of other religions, 92 per cent Sikh community members responded ‘Yes’, while 63 per cent of Christian respondents said ‘No’.

Survey says successive govts failed to contain religion-based violence

It was highlighted that faith-based violence, targeted killings, kidnapping for ransom and incitement to hatred were not confined to non-Muslims alone.

“Muslim sects mainly Shias, including the Hazaras in Balochistan, have become frequent targets of violence for their religious beliefs. State complicity is yet another factor which makes minority persecutions more rampant and left unpunished.”

The failure of the government to tighten protection mechanisms, both judicial and executive, and its use of political religion as a tool to oppress minority groups were also examined in the larger context of spreading extremist, anti-liberal propaganda and a peripheral weak civil society to counter the right-wing ideologies.

“When mob violence dictates court verdicts in cases of blasphemy and judges hearing arguments are threatened and killed, there is a severe need for protecting the accused and those defending them.”

The survey was conducted in 2014 with 327 respondents belonging to Christian, Hindu, Bahai and Sikh communities from the four provinces.

Most of the respondents, though deeply committed to their faith, were able to integrate and live peacefully with other religious groups, but felt threatened by the overall deteriorating security situation in the country.

The survey said extremist views were taking hold of the mainstream and were accorded encouragement by the state.

“It has been noted that a record number of blasphemy accusations have surfaced over the past years, with young children and handicapped individuals punished for their words and religion and those seeking to inflict inhumane harm against vulnerable, poor communities without influential, political support permitted to do so with impunity.”

It also referred to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that 34 individuals were charged with blasphemy in 2013. Though no one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, 16 people were on the death row and 20 were serving life sentences.

The survey said attempts had been made in the past to amend the blasphemy law but they were dropped fearing a backlash from the religious parties.

Violence, hate crime, murder, desecrating places of worship, verbal abuse and intimidation were regular occurrences for the Muslims and non-Muslims communities and this was the consequence of the intolerant extremist ideologies supported by the state.

The survey compared the situation of Dalit women in India, with the Hindu women in Sindh and said they were often kidnapped, forcible raped and converted to Islam despite demands from within the community and its leaders that the authorities must act to apprehend the oppressors.

“Such a crime, because it goes unpunished, is under-reported and the victims refuse to give statements for fear of their families being attacked.”

However, the survey stated that a majority of Pakistanis did not adhere to the extremist mindset and there was also a strong backing for inter-community associations that appeared to be functional for most minority groups in various parts of the country.

It was evident from the response to a question, “Do you participate freely in cultural and religious festivities along with the followers of other religions?” As many as 94 per cent Hindus, 76 per cent Christians, 96 per cent Sikhs and 90 per cent Bahais said ‘yes’.

Published in Dawn, October 4th , 2014