KARACHI: Weaknesses present in the Constitution and different statutes lead others to point a finger at Pakistan.

This was the gist of views of members of civil society, human rights organisations, professionals and students who gathered on Friday to discuss the issues faced by non-Muslims in the country, especially against the backdrop of Thursday’s development in which Pakistan was placed by the United States on a special watch list over alleged violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan is the only country on that list which is created for the first time.

‘There are some issues but we have to resolve them ourselves’

The participants of the gathering said that all sorts of discrimination with non-Muslims be curtailed to develop a well-knit and cohesive society.

“This is our country and we cannot let others criticise us. We agree that there are some issues but we have to resolve them ourselves,” the participants stated.

They demanded that the Supreme Court judgment of June 19, 2014 be implemented in letter and spirit.

“A key recommendation was the creation of a national council at the federal level to oversee the interests of the minorities. Had these salutary recommendations been accepted, the minorities would have found a forum to agitate their problems.

“If the plea for a special force to protect minorities’ shrines had been accepted, some of the fresh attacks on these sites could have been prevented.

“The SC also recommended the creation of a three-member bench to oversee implementation of court’s recommendations but no significant progress is seen in that regard,” they said.

“It also ordered that school and college curricula be developed to promote culture of religious and social tolerance; and hate speech on social media be discouraged, but we do not see much progress even in that regard.”

The participants further said: “Political parties create divide on the basis of religion to grab votes which shouldn’t be the practice.

“They have to play an active role in channelising non-Muslims.”

Peter Jacob said the literacy rate among religious minorities was disappointing.

“When the country’s literacy rate was 45 per cent, literacy among Christians was 34 per cent, among Hindus 19 per cent, and among the scheduled caste 17 per cent.

“They cannot join the mainstream because of lack of education.

“It is the duty of the state according to Article 25A of the Constitution to provide equal education to every citizen of the country irrespective of his or her caste or creed.

“Some blame the church for poor standard of education but let me clear it that it is the state which collects taxes from the citizens not the church, and therefore, it is the duty of the state to provide education to all,” he said.

“Quota of government jobs will only be beneficial when we have qualified people.”

Mangla Sharma, who is a member of the Pakistan Hindu Council’s managing committee and head of its women wing, said: “All political parties should nominate non-Muslims on National Assembly and provincial assembly seats, where they are sure of victory. This way we can send non-Muslims to legislative bodies which will address their problems.

“This is the right time to swing into action as elections are fast approaching. The political parties should fix certain percentage for appointment of non-Muslims on legislative seats,” she said.

“Forced conversion of Hindu girls is condemnable and the practice should be stopped.”

Pushpa Kumari, while throwing light on the problems of the scheduled caste, said: “They are living in far more fear than other Hindus. During the last one year, about 10 to 12 girls from the scheduled caste have been kidnapped.”

Regarding other problems of the Hindu community, she said: “The Sindh Assembly should adopt Hindu personal law as it exists in other three provinces. Right now, there is only Marriage Registration Bill in place in the province and Hindus have to seek remedy from civil courts.”

The participants said the government should also focus on improving health of its citizens, especially those from the minority groups, and reserve more money for it in the annual budget as private sectors cannot handle everything.

“According to a survey conducted in 2012, child mortality rate among Muslims was 8.6 per cent while in non-Muslims it was over 10 per cent. Malnutrition was its leading cause,” they concluded.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2018

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