ISLAMABAD: A move to criminalise forced religious conversions and to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law was endorsed by the members of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday, except for one member.

Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar of JUI-F, the dissenter, argued that existing laws already provide for that and it was a matter of implementing them.

Committee chairwoman, Senator Nasreen Jalil of MQM, on the contrary, found it “a matter of survival for all citizens of Pakistan”.

She said forced conversions to Islam, especially of Hindu girls and in Sindh, was becoming rampant in the country.

Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan of PPP defended the rights of non-Muslim citizens even more forcefully. Since, in the eyes of law, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and other citizens have equal rights, he wanted the word ‘minorities’ to be replaced with ‘better Pakistanis’.

“Services rendered by non-Muslims for Pakistan are significant and their rights must be ensured in the law,” he added.

They made the remarks during a briefing by the National Commission for Minorities to the committee on forced marriages in Hindu community and new proposals by the Ministry of Human Rights on preventing misuse of the blasphemy law.

PML-N MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani told them how the Hindu community suffered religious intolerance and is pressurised to accept Islam, with doors of justice closed to the victims.

“Acts of violence against Hindus, such as rape, kidnappings and murders, are not taken seriously. Senior and subordinate police officers deliberately delay investigation, even when directed by courts to take action,” he said.

Dr Vankwani, who heads the Pakistan Hindu Council, told the committee that he escaped an attempt on his own life on November 19 for fighting for the rights of the Hindu community.

“And instead of registering my complaint, police registered a First Information Report against me. It took me two days, and recourse to the government, to get my FIR registered,” said the ruling party lawmaker.

“It is scary how rampantly injustice is committed against minorities in Sindh,” he said.

Dr Vankwani drew special attention to the hate material being taught in school textbooks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which describes Hindus as Kafir. KP came worst with most violations of rights of minorities, followed by Sindh and Punjab.

He complained to the Senate committee that his draft Hindu Marriage bill has been pending in the parliament for over a year.

“Obstacles are raised in its way by different quarters,” he said.

“My draft bill keeps in view the Islamic laws while addressing the issue of forced religious conversions.”

Dr Vankwani sounded critical that the present government also failed to ensure the rights of minorities.

Senator Sehar Kamran of PPP shared her sentiment in a larger context. She said the PML-N government failed to ensure “the rights of people” when it drew up the National Action Plan last December to counter extremism and terrorism in the country.

“We need to change the mindset,” she said, “and that will lead to changes in the curriculum, which is an important component of the NAP.”

Committee chairperson Nasreen Jalil was displeased that the Ministry of Human Rights has not proposed changes in the blasphemy law sought by the Supreme Court.

Last month, the Supreme Court had called for improving the blasphemy law in order to provide safeguards against its misuse by leveling false allegations.

On a suggestion from the Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan, the Senate committee directed officials of the ministries of religious affairs and human rights to propose amendments to the blasphemy law and study Dr Vankwani’s draft bill.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2015


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