LAHORE: A seminar held on Tuesday discussed a research on minorities, especially in the context of international laws and Sustainable Development Goals.

Khadija Ali presented the research, titled ‘Reform Agenda, Legislature and Interventions’, wherein she showed which of the issues needed legislation first. This was done keeping in view the Constitution, especially fundamental rights and division of powers since the 18th Amendment, as well as international laws, including all UN conventions that Pakistan was a signatory to.

The recommendations received from religious minorities during the research included five per cent quota on general seats in parliament on federal level for areas where minorities were concentrated in; a quota system within parties for more inclusion; auditing methods for the recent census and investigating that there was no column in census forms for Sikhs and Bahais. They also suggested that the chairperson of Evacuee Trust Property Board be a minority community member. Inclusion in the Higher Education Commission, and amendment to Section 3 of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Act were also suggested.

The researcher said a National Commission for Minorities had still not been formed, and the National Database and Registration Authority was suggested to centralise minorities’ birth, marriage and death data. Establishment of a separate Ministry of Minority Affairs was also strongly suggested.

Major issues articulated by the minorities during research included poor social services -- water supply, health, education, justice; lack of space for graveyards; non-implementation of job quota; misuse of blasphemy laws; and fake political representation. They also complained that there were separate wings of political parties that did not include minorities as such, and that majority population misrepresented minorities as foreign proxies or agents, and created fear against them.

The research also highlighted that minority representation had dwindled in all provincial assemblies as per ratio of total seats since 2002. However, it was suggested that there was a high range of minority votes in 98 National Assembly constituencies that should be declared multi-member constituencies. It was unanimously agreed that minorities’ participation in political and electoral processes was key to solution to their issues.

Participants of the seminar also demanded conducting evaluation of the recently held census, establishing standards for police to prevent escalation of religious intolerance, sensitising police and court officials about minorities’ rights and formation of a rapid response team.

The participants included parliamentarians, civil society, lawyers, local councillors, government officials, community representatives, religious leaders, representatives of think tanks and media personnel were also present on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2017