Survey reveals Pakistanis see problems with blasphemy law

Published January 20, 2015
A policeman sits near damaged machine parts in front of a house that was burned by a mob in Gujranwala. - Photo by Reuters
A policeman sits near damaged machine parts in front of a house that was burned by a mob in Gujranwala. - Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: A survey conducted by a community-based development organisation reveals that non-Muslim Pakistanis face discrimination in almost all areas of life.

However, the discrimination faced by women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, within families and communities is similar.

Pattan Development Organisation conducted the survey in Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore and Islamabad during November-December 2014. Around 1,200 people participated in the focus group discussion on which the survey was based.

The respondents said that the constitution and law did not treat all citizens equally and a vast majority noted that there was a huge gap between the laws and their implementation.

Respondents noted that people in general believe their religion to be superior to that of others and the blasphemy law had aggravated the insecurities of non-Muslim Pakistanis.

The participants opined that the blasphemy law was being used for political and economic gains and no action is taken against those who commit blasphemy against religions other than Islam.

One of the participants mentioned that a church was torched in Multan but no FIR was registered.

Some 42 per cent of the respondents agreed that non-Muslim citizens do not dare criticise government policies or challenge violators of their rights out of fear.

Sixty-five per cent of the respondents agreed that hate against citizens of other faiths being spread and the state functionaries are not taking adequate action against the culprits.

The respondents also criticised Urdu media for not paying adequate attention to the issues of non-Muslim citizens and 53 per cent said that English language newspapers are sensitive to these issues and play a role in promoting interfaith harmony.

Furthermore, respondents agreed that school textbooks promote hatred against non-Muslims and non-Muslim students are forced to study Islamiat.

Meanwhile, Pattan Development Organisation’s national coordinator Sarwar Bari said that actors involved in policy-making such as the Supreme Court, parliament, politicians, media and civil society were on one page against elimination of extremism from the country.

The survey identified that political leaderships is not doing enough to protect the rights of minorities and respondents stated that more should be done, he said.

“Perhaps this is the best time to improve the condition of our minorities and to remove gaps in our legal framework regarding their rights,” Mr Bari said. “Our study shows that the public is also keen to see Jinnah’s vision translated into reality.”

At the same time the respondents remained divided over the question that Muslim neighbours come forward without any hesitation in support of non-Muslims in case they are under threat or attack.

“The non-Muslim participants said that their Muslim neighbours are friendly and did mingle with them, but in severe incidents they would not come to their aid,” Mr Bari said

He added that one of the reasons was that they were themselves afraid of mobs. Fear is also evident when lawyers are hesitant to take up cases of non-Muslim accused of blasphemy.

However, even non-Muslim respondents agreed that NGOs do come forward without any hesitation in support of non-Muslims when they are under threat.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2015

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