ISLAMABAD: Discrimination against minorities seems to be so pervasive that even attempts to seek solutions polarises society further, a new report released by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (Pips) says.

Titled Freedom of Faith in Pakistan: Contextualising Programmatic and Policy Orientation is based on individual and group interviews with religious scholars, NGO workers, academics, lawyers and representatives of religious minorities in the four provincial capitals and Islamabad.

The report released on Wednesday carries a note that Pips hopes the new government will prioritise the issues of religious minorities in an environment they find increasingly suffocating.

Human rights organisations have to scale down activities due to restrictive govt policies, threats from extremists, Pips report says

The Pips report says faith-based discord and discrimination seem so pervasive that even attempts to seek solutions can polarise society further.

Organisations advancing human and minority rights have to scale down their activities due to restrictive government policies as well as threats from extremists.

However, new workable ways can be explored in the form of providing tangible services to religious minorities, such as uplifting them economically and documenting their identity and marriage, as per their faiths.

This will also help mainstream them in the true sense, enabling them to freely practice their faiths.

The journal noted that grievances of religious minorities in Pakistan have many common threads, ranging from societal discrimination to economic exclusion.

Christians in particular point to the misuse of blasphemy laws against them, and Hindus in Sindh say their girls are being forcefully being converted via marriage.

Society at large condemns militant violence, but the thinking behind it, especially against people of different faiths, is rarely taken upfront. This creates an impression as if faith-based discrimination is a pervasive phenomenon, not restricted to any particular background, the report says.

The space for human rights organisations has mostly shrunk in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and in some cases, interior Sindh and southern Punjab – areas deemed sensitive in government eyes, but require priority socio-economic attention, including for religious minorities. Excluding them from any programmatic or policy work will only widen the disparities within, the report says.

Yet, working on many other fronts can bring about some positive changes. Besides reforming the criminal justice system, the new government should not shy away from delegating authorities at the local level, where violations occur and can be stopped.

The report noted that faith-based vulnerabilities also interplay with other identities and their remedies can also be sought in those spheres too.

In the case of Hindus in Sindh, the new-converts are mostly young girls even below 18, while there has not been any conversion of boys reported.

Poverty is an aggravating factor, and economic mainstreaming is seen as a great antidote. Those who are poor such as secluded-caste Hindus in Sindh and poor Christian labourers in Punjab, at times even lack proper documents that establish their basic identity or marriage status, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

The rules of the 2016 Hindu marriage law are yet to be charted, the report highlighted.

In addition to non-government organisations, religious scholars can be engaged too, who can help remove misperceptions about each other.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2018

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