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Law to protect minorities: What will it achieve?

March 13, 2013

IT is obvious what fuelled Monday’s demand in the National Assembly for the formulation of a law aimed at preventing attacks on minorities. Public reaction over the shameful acts of arson in Lahore’s Badami Bagh on Saturday — that followed the Quetta and Karachi blasts targeting the Shia community — has been fittingly strong. It has finally become obvious to all that such violence is not only spreading, its intensity too is increasing. While it may be argued that laws regarding transgressions such as arson, looting and harassment — all of which can be applied to the Badami Bagh tragedy — are already in place, it is also true that targeted laws criminalising specific practices and protecting specific groups have their value. This is evident, for example, in the body of laws that countries continue to develop to protect vulnerable groups such as women and children.

What is difficult to make out, though, is what the new law demanded by our parliamentarians might be expected to achieve in actual terms given the ground realities. The neglect of minorities’ rights has been an issue for decades. The demand for installing a new legislative framework has come at a time when there is less than a week to go before the assemblies are dissolved thus making the proposal appear as a sop to the public, especially with general elections on the horizon. However, more pertinent than this is the cravenness of the political and administrative elite whenever the issue of the misuse of the blasphemy laws or the persecution of minorities has come up. At every juncture, they have caved in before the hard-line right. Consider merely the way Monday’s demand in the Assembly was worded: “[…] carry out necessary legislation, if so desired, to prevent such unfortunate incidents in the future”. This hesitant request encapsulates the problem: protecting minorities means standing up to those who persecute them — but sadly, too few are willing to take that bullet in the chest.