LAHORE: Religious minorities’ representatives have criticised the way the federal government is establishing the National Commission for Minorities, terming the would-be body ‘toothless’.

The government has stated that it plans to reconstitute the commission and a summary would be moved for seeking approval of the Cabinet, which is due to discuss the summary on May 5 (today).

The Centre for Social Justice, headed by Peter Jacob, has issued a statement in response to the development, saying the “proposed National Commission for Minorities Rights (NCMR) is just a rehash of old sham commissions”.

“We demand an NCMR through proper legislation that is independent, empowered and effective,” says the statement.

Speaking to Dawn, Jacobterms it disappointing that the commission is being formed through the Cabinet because eventually it would not be independent as it should be.

“The commission is being widely criticised amongst the responsible members of the minority community because it fails to meet the intention of a verdict of the Supreme Court passed on June 19, 2014 under suo motu directives of the then Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and the precedent exists in the establishment of National Commission for Human Rights, Commission on the Rights of Child and the National Commission on Status of Women.”

Moreover, this commission is being established in violation of the standards set in Paris Principles by the UN, Mr Jacob adds.

From Sindh too, criticism has come from the Hindus who make up most of the religious minority communities there.

Dr Heera Lal Lohano from Karachi says the commission should be made on merit, and that the minorities’ notable representatives should be taken onboard but it is regretful that the people from only one district or area are being included in it.

“We need our representatives who have some credibility and there is no representation of any scheduled castes in the commission,” Lohano bemoans.

M Parkash Mehtani, the patron-in-chief for District Hyderabad Hindu Panchayat, says the commission had members mostly from PTI, which is not very democratic. He proposes more political balance.

“The commission must have more weightage and impartiality so it must be made through the parliament, in a democratic manner. One political party cannot do justice. The commission must have court power so that it can take suo motu notice and has the power to make some kind of difference.”

Mr Mehtani says while establishing a commission is a much needed action, it should be independent and have a role in decision making.

Others who have vowed to resist the formation of such a commission include Michelle Chaudhry from the Iris and Cecil Chaudhry Foundation, veteran human rights activist I.A. Rehman, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, and Advocate Kalpana Devi from Larkana.

The commission’s unofficial members are Chela Ram Kewlani (proposed chairman), Maulana Syed Mohammad Abdul Khabir Azad, Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi, Jaipal Chabria, Vishno Raja Qavi, Dr Sarah Safdar, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, Albert David MBE, Mimpal Singh, Saroop Singh, and Roshan Khurshid Bharucha representing Parsis, and Dawood Shah representing the Kalash.

The official members of the commission are to be representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Law/Justice, Human Rights, Federal Education and Professional Training Division, chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology, Secretary of Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.

The ministry also proposed that the Ahmadi community would not be included in the NCMR, ‘given the history and sensitivity of the matter’.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2020