The SC’s pursuit of minorities’ rights. By Nasir Saeed
23 Sep 2015
The issue of minorities’ rights and their suffering in Pakistan is becoming a serious matter. They seem more frustrated and tormented than ever before as the government appears to be oblivious to their marginalisation and repression, and has done very little to help. However, the Supreme Court (SC) seems more concerned and unwilling to ignore the plight of minorities. It recently expressed its views during a hearing in pursuit of the implementation of the order of the then Chief Justice (CJ) Tassaduq Hussain Jilani.
Three judges expressed their satisfaction over the report submitted by Punjab while another three provincial governments have been ordered to submit detailed progress reports on the implementation of its decision of June 19 last year. Mr Jilani ordered the constitution of a national council of minorities’ rights to monitor the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to minorities under the Constitution and law. The council will also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the provincial and federal governments. The CJ also ordered the formation of a special task force to protect minorities’ places of worship, which continue to be attacked. Three CJs have retired since then but there has been no progress. In contrast, the situation of minorities continues to deteriorate.
The SC seems concerned and determined about minorities’ worsening situation and I do not think there is any way for the government to escape and continue being indifferent in regards to minorities’ rights as CJ Jawwad S Khawaja (retd) has said that it is not possible for the courts to do the government’s job; he knows the ways and means for the implementation of orders. While Jawwad S Khawaja has been CJ of Pakistan for less than a month but during his tenure he has made landmark decisions and will be remembered for his indomitable courage, especially what he said in his farewell speech. I hope new CJ Anwar Zaheer Jamali will also keep in mind the struggle of minorities and their rights. Justice Dost Mohammad Khan remarked that special funds should be available for minorities. He said that mere meetings were not enough and that he wanted to see results. He added that many Hindu families have migrated to India but it is not just Hindus; all minorities are migrating to different countries. Thousands of Christians continue to migrate in search of safe havens while according to latest news the Parsi community has also started packing.
It is the government’s failure that Quaid-e-Azam’s minorities do not feel safe and secure in his state as their lives, properties, worship places and even honour are under attack. In fact, they are not just suffering because of the government’s polices but on a societal level they have to face hatred and are looked at as inferior.
Recently, we marked Quaid-e-Azam’s 67th death anniversary. Magnificent events were held throughout the country and passionate speeches and statements were issued by politicians about making Pakistan Quaid’s country. But this has been nothing but political rhetoric. I wish they had understood and embraced Quaid’s vision for Pakistan. Justice Dost Mohammad Khan has said there should be exclusive funds for minorities. Quaid-e-Azam wanted a Pakistani society free from religious elements. For this purpose he formed two committees: one for monitoring human rights and another for the protection of minorities’ rights. Unfortunately, the situation of minorities continues to worsen with every new coming day.
CJ Jawwad S Khawaja also said that Quaid-e-Azam had insight on the treatment of minorities because he had seen the treatment of the Muslim minority in India. Our SC’s judges seem justly concerned about the minorities who are living under constant fear of their lives.
But I am still not very optimistic as the misuse of the blasphemy law continues to be rife and is considered a root cause behind their suffering. New cases continue to be registered against minorities on mere allegations and to settle personal scores. For example, last month in Gujrat a case was registered against 13 Christians and one Muslim for using the word rasool to pay tribute to a late pastor while earlier this month, in Kasur, Pervez Masih was charged under the blasphemy law for having a financial dispute with his contractor. Need I remind that Shama and Shahzad’s case is still making headlines in the national and international media?
Interestingly, the SC has expressed its satisfaction over the report (about minorities’ rights) presented by the Punjab government. I do not know what magic wand they used to satisfy the court despite minorities being as disgruntled as they have been in the past. I think the situation is somewhat better in other provinces. Very few blasphemy cases are registered against minorities in other provinces; even the Sindh Assembly has already ordered mandatory mental health assessment of blasphemy suspects and has even decided to include Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947 in the curriculum of classes eight to 10.
There have been dozens of atrocities committed against minorities in Punjab, including an attack on two churches in Youhanabad. They consider the blasphemy law a root cause of their suffering. A few months ago there was news in the media that to stop the abuse of this law and the killing of innocent people by vigilantes, a draft bill would shortly be put before the Pakistani government for approval. The proposed law would introduce severe penalties for people who make false accusations of blasphemy. It would also aim to stop vigilantes from taking the law into their own hands.
Civil society continues to press the government for the implementation of the landmark decision of June 2014, particularly with regards to establishing a national council of minorities’ rights, something that has been their long-standing demand. They believe the establishment of a minorities’ council is the solution to their ongoing suffering. However, I do not have much hope as the opposition leader, Khurshid Shah, has said that the council has been established and that just the formal announcement is pending. I have talked to several minority leaders who have complained that they have not been consulted over this matter. Our Quaid promised minorities they would be consulted over any legislation and policies made about them. Last month, we marked the 68thanniversary of our independence but we are still far from the Pakistan our Quaid envisioned. His vision cannot be fulfilled until we give equal citizenship rights and status to our minorities.
Hopefully, the SC will continue in its fight to ensure Pakistan’s minorities are given the rights they are entitled to and continue to demand that the government recognise the pressing urgency of the situation.