Exclusion of vulnerable communities in Punjab Local Body Elections 2015. By James Rehmat

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Jinnah addressed all the people of Pakistan as follows: …..You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State......11 August 1947
Pakistan is a country of approximately 180 million people around 97 percent is Muslims. The remaining 3 percent is religious minorities which are highly vulnerable. They are subjected to intimidation, oppression, sexual assault, forced conversion, violence and even murder at the hands of their Muslim neighbors in the name of religious superiority.
The discrimination against the religious minorities is part of constitution, law, societal norms, religious and political context in Pakistan which underpins and stigmatizes non-Muslims as de facto second-class citizens with reduced human rights and limited religious freedom.
According to the recent report of Amnesty International has berated Pakistan for its ignominious record on the rights of minorities. The report laments that “religious minorities continued to face laws and practices that resulted in their discrimination and persecution. Abuses connected with the blasphemy laws occurred regularly during the year as demonstrated in several high profile cases”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), also lambasted Pakistan in their report underlined the plight of minorities by saying that “Pakistan’s government did little to stop the rising toll of killings and repression by extremist groups that target religious minorities”. It further reads “the government is failing at the most basic duty of government — to protect the safety of its citizens and enforce rule of law. Institutionalised discrimination fostered violent attacks on religious minorities”.
According to the Punjab Local Government (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015 promulgated earlier a union council shall have a directly elected chairman and a vice-chairman as joint candidates, and six councilors on general seats – one each from a ward. These members can contest polls either on party tickets or as independent candidates.
This means the electorates will only vote for the panel of a chairman and one general councilor from their respective ward. Once elected, the general members will elect two female members, one worker, a youth and a non-Muslim member for their wards and political parties would only need to focus on getting one member elected in a ward. The voters, however, will have no say in the election of the rest of the councilors.
Ecumenical Commission for Human Development is working to support women, religious minorities and other excluded groups; where they are suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a consequence of their faiths and gender in Pakistan. The organization has formed a Community Action Group to promote equal citizenship and opportunities for all Pakistani in Bahar Colony, which is working very actively in Youhanabad, Bahar Colony and other Christian settings in Lahore district to prevent and address human rights violations raise awareness and launch advocacy campaign for equal citizenship and opportunities for all. Currently the Community Action Group is headed by Abid Gill, the former district councilor and human rights defender.
Youhanabad and Bahar Colony are largest majority Christian areas in Lahore, Pakistan, a home to at least 200,000 inhabitants. People of these areas are still under threat and facing the discrimination of government officials, living without basic facilities of life. In these two union councils, the local body election fever is going to high with little excitement feelings and signs of vengeful resentment rather than excited anticipation.
Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif contested provincial assembly election from PP-159 and won the seat earlier, but after twin churches terrorist attacks, the government shows the strict actions against the inhabitants of the Youhanabad, now who have “boycotted” the PML(N) and most of them refuse to vote for them in coming local body election 2015.
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has not nominated its candidates of Chief Minister constituency, and number of union councils have been left open, rather than there are nine different panels and flood of ‘independent’ candidates contesting the upcoming local body elections.
The residents of the Youhanabad and Bahar Colony along with other Christian settings in Lahore, are angry with the PML-N, even their nominated of Christian parliamentarian for ignoring their concerns. They are looking back into past in the Sharif’s regime, the Christian have suffered in most horrible several attacks including the Shanti Nagar and Gojra massacre and more recently the burning of Joseph Colony, incident of Kot Radha Kishan and bomb blasts at Youhanabad, always fails to protect religious minorities.
Abid Gill, a former district councilor and head of the Community Action Group, says that changes in the union councils have left non-Muslims are very angry, because the government divided their vote and reduce the power of majority vote in Youhanabad and to put it clearly, no Muslim will vote for a complete Christian panel, so there is no chance to win.
He also added that “the corrupt mafia will approach to political parties for reserve seats that lead to more corruption in political parties and these nominated candidates can never become true representatives of the community”
He further added that “even since the lynching of two terrorist, the young Christian are being ‘picked up’ by police and other security agencies are still in process by the present government and things haven’t been changed. The local employers’ and human resource managers of the factories attitudes have been changed towards Christian workers.
Ms. Yasmin, resident of Youhanabad says, that “we voted for PML-N in general election 2013 for betterment of the area, but latterly no work has been done, sewerage water is overflowing, there is lack of proper roads and we are living with lack of basic facilities in the constituency of Chief Minister.
Kashif Nawab, a local social and political activist, says that the “Real leadership emerges from local body elections and this is a conspiracy to keep away religious minorities from the main stream politics. He further said that “human rights violations and abuses dramatically increase during Sharif’s regime”.
Sadique John, remain critics on PML-N leadership that “Shahbaz Sharif preferred to visited and sympathizing more with the family of lynched man, who was involved in the bomb blast, but he never came in his constituency where the people give him votes and he become chief minister of the Punjab province”.
Naeem Tabassum, a human rights activist said that “PTI is not very popular in Youhanabad, because religious discrimination within that party too”. He further added that there is a quite chance to win the PML-N, because there are many so-called leaders who still support to that party.
James Rehmat, Executive Director of Ecumenical Commission for Human Development, add that in recent local body election is reducing the political participation of vulnerable groups and sack the right to elect their own representative through the power of the vote.
He added that there is a dire need to take appropriate actions by existing structure especially Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry affairs and newly established National Commission for Minorities to promote religious tolerance and harmony in the country.
James Rehmat also added, that policy on inter-faith harmony should be prepared, review discriminatory laws and executive instructions and procedural practices of discrimination against the minorities be reported to the provincial and national governments.
He further added that the discrimination embedded in the constitution, laws and policies have contributed in breeding the trends of hate, discrimination and violence, equal citizenship and opportunities among all citizens.
He also added that the state institutions, political parties, media and other stakeholders to play their role to amplify their voice for inclusiveness of excluded groups in local body elections in Punjab province by direct vote and to end discrimination, promote peace, harmony, social justice and co-existence within all citizens and provide equal opportunities at all levels in the country.
Ecumenical Commission for Human Development is a faith based Christian advocacy, humanitarian aid and development agency, dedicated to eliminate poverty, disease and injustice and to support women, religious minorities and other excluded groups; where they are suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a consequence of their faiths and gender in Pakistan.

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