Activists call for greater political representation in Pakistan’s ‘first’ minority rights march

Published August 11, 2023
People attend Pakistan’s first Minority Day March in Karachi. — Photo by author
People attend Pakistan’s first Minority Day March in Karachi. — Photo by author

Hundreds of people from all walks of life gathered at Karachi’s Frere Hall on the occasion of National Minority Day today to campaign against issues faced by minorities in society and urge the government to respect their rights.

Minority Rights March 2023 was organised by political, religious, social, non-profit and government organisations. “This is the first-ever minority rights march in Pakistan,” Moneeza, one of the organisers, told Dawn.com.

The march was attended by politicians, lawyers, and human rights activists, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Junior, the only son of slain PPP leader Murtaza Bhutto.

The participants of the march — clad in traditional saaris and colorful turbans — chanted slogans against the biased system in unison and danced to the beat of Hindu garbas.

A drama depicting the perils of minority communities in Pakistan was also performed at the march by Tehrik-e-Niswan, cultural action group.

Garba dance group from umerkot — photo by author
Garba dance group from umerkot — photo by author

Speaking to Dawn.com, artist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Jr said: “Judicially, constitutionally, in the field of education, labour, finance and agriculture, religious minorities have made sacrifices and contributed for the betterment of Pakistan.

“We are all one people and I refuse to let us be divided.”

According to him, Pakistan is and always had been a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. “What we managed to achieve as a nation has been in no small part due to the contribution of religious minorities,” Bhutto Jr said.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Jr addressing the Minority Rights March — photo by author
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Jr addressing the Minority Rights March — photo by author

Zoha Alvi, a researcher and one of the organisers, said she was marching today against the discrimination faced by women belonging to minorities.

“Women of minority face discrimination based on their religion and gender which makes them more vulnerable to injustice and violence.”

She added that it was essential for these women to have representation in the local, provincial and national assemblies so that they could advocate for their needs.

Concurring with Alvi, Safina Javed — another organiser — stressed the importance of reserved seats for non-muslims in law enforcement agencies.

She pointed out that there were many pro-minority laws in Sindh, however, they only “exist on paper”. Javed said officers assigned to enforce these laws were often biased and hindered the implementation of laws in “letter and spirit”.

“If these departments have citizens belonging to the minority community, laws would be better implemented without bias,” she suggested.

Representing the Sikh community, Patron-In-Chief of the Pakistan Sikh Council Ramesh Singh said, “Currently there is no representation of Sikh and Parsi community in any of the elected bodies due to which several of our issues go unheard.”

Representatives of Sikh Community who came from Baldia Town — photo by author
Representatives of Sikh Community who came from Baldia Town — photo by author

Forced conversions and blasphemy laws were also a part of the conversation at today’s march as several participants carried banners with pictures of their loved ones who were in jail or missing.

Talking about the issue, Bhutto Jr asserted, “La Ikraha fid Deen, let there be no compulsion in religion. The Holy Quran states this clearly. No one should be forced into anything and I consider forced conversions to be a form of human trafficking.”

Meanwhile, Javed was of the opinion that the government, on a priority basis, should address the gross misuse of the law. “The public should not become the judge and executioner.”

Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab also came to the march but he stayed for less than five minutes and left without addressing the participants.

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