INDICATIONS that the government is planning to act proactively in addressing the grievances of the minority communities can only be welcomed.
Fortunately, no time-consuming inquiry is needed to ascertain the nature and extent of minorities’ plight; much that should be done to ameliorate their lot is known. For several years, minorities in Pakistan have been agitating for the implementation of former chief justice of Pakistan Tasadduq Husain Jilani’s judgment of June 2014.
In the judgment he authored, the apex court issued eight directions that called for (i) creation of a taskforce to develop a strategy for promoting religious tolerance; (ii) curricula reform for fostering religious and social tolerance; (iii) steps to discourage hate speech in the media and action against offenders; (iv) creation of a national council for minorities; (v) training of a special police force to protect minorities’ places of worship; (vi) implementation of the 5 per cent job quota for minorities; (vii) registration of cases for violation of minorities’ rights or desecration of their places of worship; and (viii) creation of a three-member bench of the Supreme Court to ensure compliance with the directions and to entertain complaints of violations of minorities’ fundamental rights.
No time-consuming inquiry is needed to ascertain the nature and extent of their plight.
Some of these directions (such as the creation a taskforce on religious tolerance, formation of a national council for minorities, implementation of the job quota, and registration of cases of violations of rights and desecration of places of worship) could be promptly implemented, while curricula reform and training of a special police force were bound to take time. A special bench of the Supreme Court started working soon after the judgment was delivered, and it did ask the government a few times for reports, but the heavy workload perhaps affected the pace of its work. The government’s failure to act upon the court’s directions caused considerable frustration among the minority communities.
That the task of ensuring compliance was assigned to a bench of the Supreme Court is one of the significant features of the verdict. Secondly, it has been accepted by the minority communities as a charter of their rights, at least for the time being. Aggrieved by the administration’s habitual tardiness, three civil society organisations approached the Supreme Court last year to persuade the government to fulfil its obligations, and the chief justice of Pakistan appointed Dr Shoaib Suddle as a one-man commission to report compliance priorities. The commission’s work has been hampered by lack of facilities. This week on Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared it would soon issue an order, which will hopefully be implemented forthwith.
A Bishop’s testimony
Meanwhile, the minorities’ case for their rightful place in Pakistan has been ably argued by Bishop Emeritus of Lahore Dr Alexander John Malik in his recently published book, My Pakistan: The Story of a Bishop.
The author uses the expression ‘my Pakistan’ because he has opted to live in this country by a deliberate choice. In 1972, he gave up his PhD studies in Canada in response to a call from the church to return home. He defied family pressure to stay on in Canada by declaring: “Pakistan is my country. I need to be there both for my Lord and for Pakistan.”
In this memoir, he devotes only a few pages to the story of his life, his election as the bishop of Lahore in 1980 while still a few days short of his 39th birthday, and his 32 years in that office. The rest of the book is a chronicle of what Pakistan’s minorities have done for their country, and how they have suffered because of the state’s deviation from its ideal as defined by the Quaid-i-Azam.
While describing the Christian community’s role in the establishment of Pakistan, he does not confine himself to their vote in favour of bringing Punjab into Pakistan, he offers the evidence collected by a number of writers to show Christian solidarity with Punjab’s Muslims during the 1920s and 1930s, their opposition to the partition of Punjab, and their plea before the Boundary Commission to be counted with the Muslims.
He then recalls the Christian community’s services to Pakistan in the field of education and defence, and claims: “Proportionally, the number of Christian martyrs outnumbered all others in the defence of Pakistan.” As against the services rendered by minorities, he notes: “In 70 years of Pakistan’s history, due to the inclusion of Islamic clauses in the constitution – especially during Zia’s era – the status of minorities as citizens has drastically changed from what the father of the nation had envisaged.” After referring to discrimination against minorities in the Constitution, in admission to educational institutions and services, and the tribulations caused by the blasphemy law, the author gives an account of violence against minorities from 1997 to 2012.
Bishop Malik argues that, despite curtailment of minorities’ rights, “their love for and their commitment to serving Pakistan have in no way diminished”. He recalls the Parsi community’s contribution to the economy and culture, and the Christian community’s contribution in the fields of education, health and defence.
It was not easy for the bishop to avoid a conflict between his service to his Lord and his pledge to serve Pakistan. When over a dozen worshippers were massacred in a Bahawalpur church in 2001, he curbed the urge to blame the government or the people for the outrage by describing the loss of Christian lives as a sacrifice for their faith. His efforts to build the St Thomas Church in Islamabad and the St Denys’ High School in Murree — after it had been burnt down twice — are in sharp contrast with our failure to quickly rebuild the girls’ schools destroyed by extremists. There is a lesson in this for Muslim Pakistanis who need to maintain a balance in their duties to the faith and to the state.
Bishop Malik’s plea for due recognition of the fundamental rights of Pakistan’s minority communities commands respect because he is reasonable, non-partisan and moderate in tone.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2019