KARACHI: Highlighting various forms of religious discrimination in the country, speakers at a discussion urged the government to implement last year’s landmark judgement of the Supreme Court that had outlined a strategy on how to protect non-Muslims’ rights.
The speakers, who mainly represented both Hindu and Christian communities, were unanimous in their demand that the government should completely ban issuance of permits for the sale of alcohol as all types of intoxicants were prohibited in their religions as well.
Another point of consensus was the opposition to the use of the term ‘minority’ that, it was said, reflected that non-Muslims could never attain equal rights as enjoyed by Muslims in Pakistan.
The discussion on ‘Religious freedom in Pakistan in the light of the Supreme Court’s judgement’ was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) here on Thursday.
Voicing grievances of his community, the president of Pakistan Hindu Council Chela Ram Kewlani strongly opposed the electoral procedure for non-Muslims and said: “How could people who don’t have the right to vote speak of their rights?
Everyone is well aware how people are elected to reserved seats on a party basis. If people get united and start raising issues affecting their communities, nobody could do injustice to us.”
He regretted the government notification on five per cent quota in employment for non-Muslims had never been implemented. The contribution of Hindus businessmen, especially in Sindh, to national economy was tremendous, he said, adding that they were a law-abiding and tax-paying community.
“It’s the poor Hindu, most of them farmers, who are suffering the most. They were the ones who were forced to migrate and not those who were financially stable because the rich will prefer migrating to Canada or a European country to going to India.
“But, even after migration, they don’t find relief. They yearn for Pakistan as this is their birthplace. They have invested their lives here. If the government assures them of security, they will surely return,” he said.
Raising concerns over forced conversions, he said that it was ironic that though a law banning marriages under 18 years existed, such cases continued to occur and raised the question why Hindu boys did not convert to Islam.
Mr Kewlani criticised occupation of properties belonging to non-Muslims such as Hindu Gymkhana in Karachi and Mitha Ram Hospital in Hyderabad and said that five temples had been burnt over a period of six months in Sindh but none of their representatives had been able to speak up against the sacrilege.
The government, he said, maligned the Hindu community by allowing issuance of permits for selling alcohol in their name as Hindu holy scripts also prohibited consumption of intoxicants.
Dr Sono Khangrani of Piler underlined the need for a census so that the exact population of non-Muslims could be determined. The government was deliberately not holding a census because then it would have to give them their rights and their due share in jobs as well, he said.
He said the number of non-Muslims had increased many times but until and unless all non-Muslims got united on one platform they would not be able to secure their rights.
Mr Khangrani lamented lack of representation of low-caste Hindus on the Pakistan Hindu Council and said that it was important to have their representatives because they comprised 90pc of Hindu population in the country and were the most oppressed.
Expert on labour rights and a trainer working with the Manchester Trade Union Council, Geoff Brown, said the United Nations took a long time recognising the rights of religious minorities that had taken a central place in world politics today.
He appreciated the stance taken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said that it showed people believing in religious harmony, peaceful co-existence and diversity of opinion could collectively challenge Islamophobia and protect rights of religious minorities.
Informing the audience about the vital points in the Supreme Court’s decision, Dr Jaffar Ahmed, head of the Pakistan Study Centre, Karachi University, said the judgement well interpreted Article 20 of the Constitution related to religious freedom.
“It says that religious freedom is not confined to personal domain but could also be practised by collective actions, like promoting one’s faith and building religious places. One of the most important points is that the decision gave the Clause 20 autonomous status that means it can’t be linked to any other clause of the Constitution,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2015