By Syed Mohammad Ali
October 15 2012
The Pakistani diaspora is usually at the forefront of expressing disgruntlement when it comes to complaining about Islamophobia abroad. Yet, as a nation, we continue to treat minorities within Pakistan itself abhorrently.
Our statesmen seem to have long forgotten Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s advice of allowing all citizens in the country complete freedom to worship respectively in their temples, churches and mosques. It is nothing short of tragic that a country meant to provide a homeland for what was essentially a religious minority in the Indian subcontinent has now become a nation where minorities are under such duress.
Although no fan of index-based rankings, it was nonetheless disgruntling to see Pakistan listed as the sixth most dangerous country in the world for minorities, based on the Peoples Under Threat Index for 2011.
Hatred and fundamentalism have fermented to unacceptable levels. They need just the slightest excuse to explode. Besides recurrent cases of individual harassment, attacks on Ahmadi places of worship, the Gojra incident targeting minority Christians and the destruction of Hindu temples and churches in Pakistan are just a few recent examples.
Alongside prosecuting minorities of other faiths, sectarian violence remains unaddressed. The recent spate of targeted killings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and an acid attack on Shias in Kurram Agency, provide an all too disturbing reminder of this lingering problem. Religious myopia has even unleashed infighting within different schools of Sunni thought.
Although the Pakistani Constitution aspires to protect citizens of all faiths, in practice, this has not been the case. In fact, the lacklustre state response when it comes to protecting our minority communities from perturbing excesses such as forced conversions and accusations of blasphemy has driven several among the intimidated communities to the point of despair. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has rightly expressed alarm at the exodus of religious minority communities from Sindh and Balochistan.
The media has also begun paying more attention to instances of minority abuses. Yet, media coverage of this issue is still sending out mixed signals. On the one hand, media coverage of Ahmadi persecution and threat to the lives of its community members is laudable. Conversely,telecasting conversion of a young Hindu man on television during this past Ramazan on a talk show aired by a popular private channel stirred up a controversy for undermining the principle of coexistence with people of other faiths.
An act being drafted to stop forced conversion of religion needs to be passed without delay. Other relevant suggestions to address these perturbing ground realities include formulating proactive measures to empower and protect minorities against other forms of discrimination and to penalise those who seek to disturb interfaith harmony or try to use polemics to fuel sectarian divides or hatred towards other religions.
With general elections coming up, it is vital that more politicians begin articulating progressive visions for safeguarding religious minorities in Pakistan. If politicians do not realise the need for doing this themselves, one hopes that more opinion-makers and civil society organisations will begin demanding that they do so.
A recent report by the Jinnah Institute on the status of minorities has rightly pointed to the need for developing a critical mass to help arrest the discrimination and persecution against our minorities. It is about time that the silent Muslim majority in the country casts aside its indifference and takes serious notice of the growing intolerance, lest it succeeds in driving out Hindus, Christians, or Ahmadis, because this is not where the persecution will stop. Ongoing simultaneous sectarian strife within the country provides proof enough of that.
Originally published by Tribune Pakistan