ISLAMABAD: Whenever there is a debate on the issues of minorities, people refer to Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech in which he had said the citizens of the country would enjoy equal rights irrespective of their religious affiliations. But the issues of minorities would only be resolved if the Quaid’s saying is followed in letter and spirit.
This was stated by the patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, at the launching ceremony of a report, “State of religious freedom in Pakistan.” The report was launched by Jinnah Institute at a local hotel on Tuesday.
Dr Ramesh, who belongs to the PML-N, said in February 2014 the then chief justice of Pakistan called him for suggestions during the hearing of a case regarding minorities.
“After 16 hearings, the judgment was announced in June 2014 and the first point of the ruling was about changing the mindset. Provinces did nothing in this regard so I approached the apex court again in November 2014,” he said.
“I believe that the curriculum should be amended to change the mindset. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, non-Muslims are mentioned as ‘kafir’ in the curriculum but no one is ready to take notice of it. The Punjab government has formed a board to review the curriculum but done nothing,” he said.
However, Sindh has revised the curriculum of the primary level which will be introduced in schools soon, he said.
“If a non-Muslim is accused of blasphemy, hundreds of people of his community are attacked. It seems there is a problem in the leadership. I submitted a bill to parliament that the minorities should get the right to elect their representatives but the bill was rejected,” he said.
Dr Ramesh said some government officials had requested him to give in writing that the minorities faced no issue in the country in order to fulfill a criterion to get GSP Plus status from the EU.
“However, the fact is that the Hindu community sees 10 to 15 forced conversion cases every month. Besides, 4,000 to 5,000 Hindus migrate from Pakistan every year,” he said.
About the report, Dr Ramesh said it incorrectly put the number of Hindus in Pakistan at one million. He said the number of Hindus in the country was eight million.
The head of Jinnah Institute, Senator Sherry Rehman, said discrimination against minorities was a serious issue.
“It can be a problem of the region but we must first speak of our own house,” she said.
The executive director of Christian Study Centre, Jennifer Jagjivan, said one in 26 Pakistanis believed in religion other than Islam.
“Religious freedom in Pakistan is in many shapes. The Constitution talks about the protection of minorities and equal human rights but it also says Islam is the state religion,” she said.
“If one Christian is charged of blasphemy, many are targeted. People with a vision should hold dialogue on the issue,” she said.
Syed Hassan Akbar, one of the authors of the report, said the report covered incidents till 2015.
“Over 100 interviews were conducted and it took almost one year to complete the report. It is the second report of Jinnah Institute about issues of minorities.”
In reply to a question, Mr Akbar said after the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), some improvement had been observed. “Communities which are in touch with us have also confirmed the improvement,” he said.
“During the last five to six years, violence increased all over the country but minorities were affected more because they were vulnerable to it. However, now things are getting better,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2016