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KARACHI: Members of religious minorities have said the state should ensure peace, brotherhood and harmony among all of its citizens irrespective of their faiths.

They were discussing their views at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) workshop on making places of religious significance secure at a hotel on Tuesday.

The political parties invited to give their perspective on the matter did not even show up. Many participants also felt that political parties seldom publicly condemn attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship.

Even when they do, their censure does not go beyond rhetoric. But they are expected to react towards such threats with seriousness.

Mir Chand from Umerkot spoke about feudal lords kidnapping Hindu girls and raping them. He also diverted the participants’ attention towards the unlawful taking over of land that belonged to minorities.

“Some 12 acres of land which [also includes a] graveyard around the Shiv Mandir have been taken over by feudal lords and this was done with the help of political parties,” he said.

Lawyer Saleem Michael said mandirs and gurdwaras were under constant threat in the country just like the Hindu Gymkhana in Karachi.

One of the reasons for atrocities against non-Muslims was lack of honest leadership which could provide relief to all stakeholders irrespective of their faiths.

“Look at the contribution of non-Muslims in Pakistan’s education and health sectors, but no textbook informs children about it,” Mr Michael observed.

Most of the participants were of the opinion that in the absence of any specific law against threats and attacks on the places of religious significance, the government must implement the general criminal law forcefully.

Shankar from Hyderabad said anyone who hurt a minority community member was sent to a psychiatric hospital for being mentally unstable and thus forgivable.

“The offender after taking some rest there comes out of the asylum refreshed and ready for his next attack,” he pointed out.

Social worker Dr Sabir Michael observed there was lack of rule of law due to which minority worship places were not safe.

“But constant lobbying can help us,” he said.

Zahid Farooqui, a human rights activist, pointed out that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif denounced his son-in-law retired Captain Safdar’s remarks on Ahmadis only to secure votes from Youhanabad, which Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was in danger of losing.

Allama Mohammad Ahsan Siddiqui of Interfaith Commission for Peace and Harmony said that unity was needed to fight for collective rights.

“When the temple in Larkana was attacked, I protested about it outside the Karachi Press Club but no one from the Hindu leadership joined me.

“When the Guru Granth Sahib was desecrated in India, again I came to protest but the Sikh leadership was unwilling to join me,” he said.

“War and peace originate in minds. So we need to clean people’s minds and develop in them love and respect for each other,” said Riaz Ahmad Shirazi, representing the Baha’i community.

“Maybe our state’s policy needs to be changed. We need to spread awareness around us and convince them to fight for change,” said former MNA Kunwar Khalid Yunus.

“Change may take place but it is a slow process. It took us 70 years to reach here and we won’t be around in the next 70 years but the process will continue,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2017