ON Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to safeguard religious sites around the world, in line with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution was proposed by Saudi Arabia, co-sponsored by Pakistan and other nations from the developing world, and supported by the US and EU. However, it did not take long before delegates from India and Pakistan began arguing over the status of minority rights in each other’s territory. Unfortunately, a number of countries are found wanting when it comes to protecting and preserving the right to life and dignity of minority citizens — and this discrimination is often endorsed by the state and preserved by society, through the passage of discriminatory laws, prejudice and wilful ignorance. This includes many of the governments that sponsored the resolution. For instance, at the UNGA, the Indian delegate brought up the attack by a mob on a Hindu shrine in Karak, KP, to highlight the insecurity felt by minorities in Pakistan. Yet around that same time, towards the tail end of the previous year, communal violence broke out in parts of BJP-governed Madhya Pradesh. Indeed, radicalised elements on the other side of the border are more than just fringe elements and follow the lead of the Hindutva government.

Where Pakistan is concerned, the government has made some progress in recent years when it comes to preserving minority places of worship. In April 2019, the government announced the reopening of the 1,000-year-old Shawala Teja Singh temple in Sialkot, sealed for 72 years, and attacked by a mob in 1992. Then, in November 2019, Pakistan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor, with approximately 12,000 pilgrims present, which allowed Sikhs from India and the diaspora to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib — one of the holiest sites in Sikhism. However, in July 2020, construction of the Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad had been halted following threats and the tearing down of the boundary wall. In its efforts to protect minority rights, Pakistan must also focus on changing mindsets.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021

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