Khanewal, Pakistan: February 10, 2017. (PCP) The religious nature of Pakistani state coupled with repeated experiences of non-democratic and military regimes have systematically isolated and alienated the minorities socially, economically and politically. As a result of decade’s long misrule and bad governance minorities have been relegated to second grade citizen through different legislations and anti-minority policies. Minorities of the country are now at bottom in ranking of marginalized sections of the society. Devoid of any significant representation at various policy forums the potentials and productivity of minorities have been deteriorated further with the passage of time.
The recent wave of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan has caused serious repercussions on freedom and harmonious living for religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in the country. Burning of churches, temples and other places of worship and institutions of religious minorities have increased alarmingly in the recent years.
The growing trend of sectarianism and religious violence has also indicated the increasing influence of right wingers and religious forces within state and government structures. Although the society and its basic essence is still based on the progressive and secular thought yet its strengths to assert and resist such religious and fundamentalist forces is minimal thus minorities are becoming vulnerable and insecure.
Despite a consistent struggle of different minority groups against the discriminatory laws and policies nothing substantial has been changed so far. Pakistan has become dangerous country for Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities because incidents of persecution in name of religion are rising every year due to legislation which failing to protect them.
The minorities were 23% of population of Pakistan at time of formation of Pakistan in 1947 which is reduced to 5% according to government gazette notifications of 2002 because minorities are migrating from Pakistan feeling unsafe.
On February 6, 2017 Indus Valley Minority Ittehad (Coalition) and Minority Rights Commission have organized a Minority Consultation: “Minority Rights Struggle in Pakistan; Present Situation, Challenges and Way Forward” at Shanti Nagar village, district Khanewal.
The purpose of this conference was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Shanti Nagar incident (1997) and establishing Indus Valley Minority Ittehad at national level in order to raise religious minorities’ voice.
This Ittehad will organize religious minorities political and social groups, minority women and youth, poets, writers, journalists, lawyers, and minority councilors for effective participation in democratic process and governance to safeguard fundamental rights and make them heard at policy and decision-making levels’ through policy advocacy, pressure building and collective actions.
Nazir James said that the Constitution does not protect their fundamental rights in any sense. There is only protection to Islam and Muslims but even then it is said that all citizens are equal and minority rights are being protected. Unfortunately Pakistani governments have all the times been in the pressure of non-state extremist actors and have failed to protect the minority rights.
Yonis Alam, convener of Indus Valley Minority Ittehad said that Pakistan's blasphemy law has come under intense criticism for the ease of which Muslims can abuse it to persecute Christians and other minorities. Accusation is nearly all that is needed for someone to be charged with blasphemy, which is punished by fines, imprisonment, or even death. Even without proper evidence, as in the case of Bibi, someone can be accused of blasphemy and end up on death row.
There are so many massacres witnessed that how the Christians attacked, maltreated, killed and tortured. Here are few incidents where Shanti Nagar massacres took place in 1997, Terrorist attack on St. Dominic Church Bahawalpur in October 27, 2001, Islamabad Protestant Church attacked in March 17, 2002, the Murree School was attacked in August 05, 2002, attack on Christian hospital Taxla in which 4 killed. Attack on Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) in which 6 people lost their lives, Sangla Hill Church & schools attacked in November 2005, a Church attacked in Chianwali-Daska Sialkot on December 25 (day of Christmas) in 2004, Churches attacked in Karachi & Sukkur in 2009, Christians attacked & tortured in Bahminyawala Kasur in June 2009, Christians attacked, their houses were demolished, burnt in Korian village in July 2009, Christians in Gojra city maltreated, burnt alive and their houses attacked and looted in August 2009, Christians also attacked in a village nearby Sambrial Sialkot and St. George Grecian Church attacked in Bannu Cantt. In 2009. Joseph Colony an area of Badami Bagh Lahore, a twin suicide bomb attack on Peshawar church, Christian couple burnt alive Kot Radha Kishan in Kasur, two Youhanabad churches blast, Gulshan-i-Iqbal park incident on Easter Sunday and many others. One big shift in the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan has been the State policy.
At the time of independence it was a considered and declared resolve of the newly established state to protect and promote these non-Muslim communities but after overlooking and neglecting the non-Muslims, today the State stands totally retreated from the responsibility of protecting minorities or their rights. The State was slow to react in minority protection and justice – to say the least – but the killing of Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Handery Masih Baloch have highlighted the apathy, inaction and shying away of the State. The Terrorists and fundamentalists are continuously attacking at on different places just to disturb the atmosphere of peace in Pakistan.
Shahzad Francis, a social activist from Khanewal said that the incident of Shanti Nagar took place due to separate electoral system but it has become again joint electoral system. He further said that Christian community was in good number in Punjab and if we organize the minority community politically then we can affect the electoral results in Christian majority areas.
Vernon Anthony, Program Manager Minority Rights Commission stressed that the idea of establishing Indus Valley Minority Ittehad (Coalition) at national level is the result of consultation of religious minorities, cultural and ethnic groups, networks that are part of MRC directly or indirectly in different districts.
Religious minorities feel that they can only protect their democratic and constitutional rights through effective participation in political process in more organized way and concrete manner. With introduction of devolution plan and subsequent local government elections in 2001 and 2005 and 2016, new doors were opened for marginalized sections including religious minorities to political process. The new system brought in new cadre of leadership from minority groups also. It is great success for minority that 3 union council’s chairmen were elected in district Khanewal only. They got the votes from minority as well as majority. Now it is need of the hour to unite minority councilors at national level to raise their active voice for the rights of minorities and bring religious minorities in mainstream politics so minorities can get development schemes and funds.
Iftikhar Alam, Chairman Union Council Shanti Nagar said that the mob violence against minorities had started from Shanti Nagar but today we unanimously take oath to start political struggles for minority rights from Shanti Nagar.