Minority meeting

Published May 17, 2020

FOR years, representatives of religious minority communities have expressed their desire to see a functioning commission that would safeguard their rights in an environment of growing insecurity and intolerance. Following the horrific twin bombings at the Peshawar All-Saints Church in 2013, then chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani had ordered the setting up of such a body in June 2014. Six years later, the cabinet launched the National Commission for Minorities, but it has been entangled in a series of controversies and compromises in just a few days of its existence. Some have already labelled the NCM ‘toothless’, expressed reservations about the way it was set up, and questioned its sincerity and effectiveness in addressing problems faced by different religious minorities in Pakistan. For instance, minorities are disproportionately targeted with false charges under the blasphemy laws; their homes and places of worship are attacked by mobs and mafias; reports of minority women being forcibly converted and married off to Muslim men keep resurfacing; and then there are the everyday hurdles of discrimination, hate speech and ‘casual’ prejudice that largely goes unchecked.

Given all these issues, it is rather strange that the NCM decided to discuss discrimination faced by religious minorities across the border in its first meeting on Thursday. While one cannot deny the suffering of Muslims in India, and there is no harm in showing solidarity with beleaguered people living in any part of the world, would it not make more sense for the commission to focus on problems faced by minorities at home, and leave the prime minister, foreign minister and the Foreign Office to dilate on problems abroad? Unfortunately, it seems as if Pakistan’s minorities are expected to constantly have to prove their loyalty to the state and its dominant narrative, rather than being accepted as truly equal citizens, in a way that is neither patronising nor demeaning. Until we start having honest conversations, where people freely express themselves and feel they have been heard, any change will be cosmetic and ring hollow.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2020

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