At a time when Pakistan’s social media is showing concern about the plight of the minority Rohingya-Muslim community of Myanmar, the minorities and marginalized groups in its own backyard are fighting a battle for survival.
Between January 2013 and June 2014, up to 3,753 Non-Muslim Pakistanis, especially Hindus, gave up their passports to acquire Indian Visas. This year, India granted citizenship to 4,300 refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, both Hindus and Sikhs.
Systematic constitutional marginalization, growing extremist narrative, and state-backed persecution are some of the major reasons.
Whereas its Punjab province has seen a spike in extremism, resulting in more attacks on minority worship places, Sindh, on the other hand, has been known for forced conversions of the Hindu community.
The Foreign Policy magazine ranked Pakistan as the third worst state in terms of group grievance, whereas Freedom House, in 2012, categorized the country as partially free for religious practice.
The Movement of Solidarity and Peace reports that forced conversion is one of the major reasons for minority group grievance in Pakistan. According to the Asian Human Rights watch, an average of 20-25 incidents of forced conversion and kidnappings take place in the Sindh province per month, mostly involving the Hindu community.
Reports of Friday sermons in mosques announcing Jihad against the Hindu community in Sindh have also surfaced in the recent past, making Hindus an easy target for kidnapping and conversion.
Local administration – including Police – provides impunity to influential culprits by refusing to lodge FIRs and complaints against the perpetrators, adding further to the woes of the victims.
In Punjab, the situation is somewhat different. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales says that major causes of minority conversions stem from economic disparity and poverty. Converting to Islam – the majority religion – gives a perceived opportunity to move up the social and economic ladder in the country.
Forced conversions are not the only issue faced by minorities in Pakistan. Religious violence and persecutions have also become a norm in the past decade. Minority places of worship are now a constant target of bomb blasts and terrorist attacks whereas graves of Christians and Ahmadis have also been excavated and vandalised.
Ironically, when they take to the streets and protest, the police beats them up, arrests them and then involves them in prolonged litigation.
The Institute of Economic and Peace, in its latest ranking, put Pakistan on the third spot for global terrorism index, with attacks on minorities also adding up to the country’s rating.
The role of the state in the current scenario has been severely criticized and gravely expressed by many of these organisations. Pakistan’s constitution and legislations have come under enormous local and global debate for marginalizing the minorities.
They have taken note of the fact that even births, marriages and deaths of minorities are not registered. This hurts their social existence, on issues like inheritance and adoption, and makes their women, even married ones, vulnerable to abduction and forced conversion and marriage.
Pakistan’s Constitution has been amended several times over the year introducing legislations that overlooked the country’s minority population. In 1962, founder Jinnah’s vision of a secular Pakistan took a blow when the Pakistan Advisory Council for Islamic Ideology moved to add a repugnancy clause to the Constitution asking for laws to be formulated in the light of Quran and Sunnah.
This was followed by Gen. Ziaul Haq’s reign of Islamisation where mandatory payment of Zakat and trying to converge the country under one brand of Islam also added fuel to the raging spiral of extremism. Introduction of the Article 295-295 under the Pakistan Penal Code for criminalising and punishing blasphemy related offences has also lead to vigilantism and vandalism against the minorities.
Whereas before 1986 there were only 16 blasphemy-related cases registered in the country, the number has gone up to 1300 cases in three decades. Instances of Christians burnt alive on allegations of blasphemy have stemmed from these strict Blasphemy laws currently enforced in the country.
Pakistan is among many UN member states to have signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, yet political and civil rights, especially for the minorities, are becoming a rarity.
The Constitution forbids any minority member from seeking or taking any high state level position on grounds of religion.
This was not the case when Jinnah was at the helm of affairs. Jinnah’s vision of secular Pakistan was endorsed by his appointment of Christian and Ahmadi members in the first Cabinet of the country. Such appointments are now seen as symbolic where a minority Parliamentarian could only oversee minority affairs.
At the root is Pakistan’s obsession with India – of competing and countering, of spreading calumny and of condemning whatever India does or says. Successive governments have survived and thrived on this and this seems unlikely to change ever.