‘Everyone with a green passport should have equal rights’

Oct 08 2019

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Peter Jacob speaks at the event on Monday.—White Star
Peter Jacob speaks at the event on Monday.—White Star

KARACHI: Speakers at a conference titled ‘Right to Religious Freedom in Pakistan –– in Light of Constitution 1973, Article 20’ at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology on Monday stressed the need for having a tolerant society.

Peter Jacob of the Centre for Social Justice, which organised the moot, was the first speaker. He said one of the reasons for which Pakistan came into being was the thought that Muslims in undivided India would not be able to practise their religion with freedom. This, after independence, was used as a political narrative and even used in our daily exchange of ideas. Article 20 of the 1973 Constitution gives every citizen the right to practise the religion that s/he follows.

Mr Jacob said at the international level the word that’s used alongside the phrase religious freedom is that of ‘conscience’ (zameer ki azaadi). There can be no qadghan (restriction) on this kind of freedom. “We feel that to date the debate on genuine religious freedom hasn’t taken place,” he remarked citing the example of the Ghotki attack to back up his argument.

Allama Mohammad Ahsan said Pakistan is a country where all citizens are free. “I need Jinnah’s Pakistan.” Pakistan’s Constitution gives freedom to all. He raised the question, “What is it that divides us?” and answered it’s the media, the breaking news phenomenon, which pushed us towards a hate-filled atmosphere. He said the Father of the Nation had non-Muslim ministers in his cabinet.

Mehnaz Rehman said Pakistan was made for the Muslims of India, but M.A. Jinnah did not want it to be a theocracy. All the ulema opposed the creation of Pakistan. At the time our leaders who were well-educated did not think if minorities would be treated unfairly in areas where Muslims were in a majority. They did not have an idea about the kind of bloodshed that took place in 1947 or the mob mentality that led to it. The ulema who opposed Pakistan captured it after independence.

Ms Rehman said religion is a personal matter, and whoever has the green passport should not be discriminated against. They should have equal rights.

Dr Hira Laal said he’s proud to be a Pakistani. “We [Hindus] have been living in Sindh and Pakistan for centuries. We did not migrate to the country. This is our motherland. We respect all religious figures. We are the followers of Shah Latif and Sachal Sarmast. We are soaked in the colour of Sufism.”

Dr Laal said during General Musharraf’s time our voices would be heard. But today no political party lends an ear to us. The rights of a minority are also human rights. “Whenever there’s a problem with India, we are targeted. We are Pakistani Hindus,” he said, adding things can improve if the Quaid-i-Azam’s Aug 11 speech could be acted upon.

Dr Riaz Sheikh said intolerance has become a big issue in our society. With the passage of time it has assumed dangerous proportions.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2019