Small victories — minorities in power corridors in Pakistan

Their appointments signify slight progress towards inclusive governance in Pakistan but true inclusivity is still a distant hope.
Published April 4, 2024

More than seven decades ago, during a speech on the floor of Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah expressed a hope:

“You will find that in the course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state,” the founder of the country said.

But 76 years later, Jinnah’s hope of prosperity and harmony remains unrealised even today as Pakistan continues to make headlines for electing minorities in semi-important government positions.

Most recently, two men belonging to minority communities took oath in the provincial assemblies of Sindh and Punjab.

Their appointment, although unlikely to bring any radical changes to the overall composition of the national and provincial legislatures, can bring long-lasting impacts on the political representation in Pakistan.

Ramesh Singh Arora — Punjab’s first Sikh minister

On March 6, a ceremony took place at the Governor House in Punjab. At first glance, the scene looked rather too similar. All of the province’s newly elected ministers were lined up in a queue and taking oath. But in this mundane image is a colour that will pop up in the frame.

It’s a red turban worn by the first Sikh minister of Punjab, Ramesh Singh Arora, who for the next five years would be looking over the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Arora represents a vibrant community known for its call for peace and charity.

Punjab cabinet oath taking ceremony— screengrab
Punjab cabinet oath taking ceremony— screengrab

One might imagine that it would have been a difficult journey for a non-Muslim to climb up the political ladder in Pakistan but Arora is of a different opinion.

“Things are not as bad as people say, the government takes prompt action whenever there are incidents of harm on the minority community and stands by them as supporters,” he told

There are challenges but they are the same as those faced by any minority community around the world, even in the most developed nations like the US, the black population is prejudiced against, he said.

“Things are not as bad as people who have a Western interest portray them to be,” the newly inducted minister added.

Fondly remembering his entry into politics in 2013, he recalled that the first person who saw him as a potential candidate was PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal. The latter introduced Arora to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the rest is history.

Sharif had a vision for Kartarpur Sahib and was happy to welcome a Sikh onboard as it would help them connect with the Sikh community worldwide, for whom the Kartarpur Gurdwara is a holy pilgrimage site.

And indeed, Arora delivered. In his previous two terms as an MPA, he welcomed various delegations to the Gurdwara. He was appointed as the general secretary and member of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee — a body constituted by the federal government responsible for all the Sikh religious institutions and places of worship in Pakistan.

Ramesh Singh Arora with an American delegation visiting Kartarpur Sahib — Ramesh Singh Arora/Facebook
Ramesh Singh Arora with an American delegation visiting Kartarpur Sahib — Ramesh Singh Arora/Facebook

But for Arora, his biggest achievement is something else, something close to his heart: the The Punjab Sikh Anand Karaj Marriage Act 2018 — a law that aims to help solve several problems faced by Sikh women in Pakistan due to non-registration of the marriage.

Previously, Sikh marriages were solemnised by the lavaan pheras — a ceremony in which the couple goes around the Guru Granth Sahib as the priest recites the four lavaan (Sikh hymns). Even though the couple are declared married after these pheras, in the eyes of the law their marriage does not exist as it was not registered in the system.

This led to various problems, mostly faced by women during custody battles and gaining rightful inheritance. “My first step as a minister will be the implementation of this law,” Arora said.

Further elaborating on his plans, he said that the department does not have a vision. Hence initially, he will set goals, as a minister which will be based on feedback from the communities and stakeholders. “I will keep goals for every quarter and hold myself accountable for the deliverables that have been set,” Arora asserted.

Anthony Naveed — Sindh Assembly’s first Christian deputy

An unusually long applause reverberated through the hall when Anthony Naveed’s name was called out loud in the Sindh Assembly. Taking the cue, a man dressed in a white shalwar kameez and light blue waistcoat walked up to the dice and took oath.

Sindh had gotten its first Christian deputy speaker.

“This is not just my win but of every Christian in Pakistan,” Naveed told, recalling that he stepped into politics with the aim of transforming his community’s political image.

The newly elected deputy speaker’s roots depict a humble beginning, one that started in Karachi’s Akhtar Colony — a place one would never expect a Pakistani politician of this stature to live in.

“I would lose my identity if I left that place. I am here because of them. Today every resident of the area is a deputy speaker,” Naveed said with a smile.

His political journey started when he was just 15 years old. Working as a right-based activist, he helped groom and counsel children belonging to his community.

“My community is fighting the battle of survival and I always told these children that the only way you can change things for yourself is by gaining education,” Naveed added.

But at the same time, Naveed was aware that he could never get anything done without being in a position where he could make laws or influence institutions that implement the rights given to his community.

In 2005, he fought his first local government election on the PPP’s ticket and was elected as the naib nazim. The same year, Jamaat-i-Islami had clinched the vote for nazim. Naveed recalls that while it was initially difficult to work together, an understanding was eventually reached between the two parties.

Two years later, former premier Benazir Bhutto gave him a ticket to contest the general elections. But Naveed withdrew his candidacy and chose to continue serving as a local government representative.

During his term in 2018, as an MPA, the deputy speaker lobbied for amendments to the Christian personal laws. “The marriage law says that a boy aged 15 and a girl aged 13 can get married, we want the age to be amended and bring it in line with the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013,” Naveed said.

Another amendment he wants to bring is on the grounds of divorce. There were seven grounds of divorce before General Ziaul Haq amended them and eradicated all except adultery. “This has led to a lot of girls in our community living in abusive marriages,” Naveed highlighted.

Anthony has always been an advocate of education, however a lot of children belonging to minorities are unable to secure merit seats in educational institutions.

“I want an education quota for them, Punjab has a 2 per cent so does Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad, I am hoping if not more we would have the same quota in Sindh,” Naveed emphasised.