Right to Vote and Minorities. By Fr. Bernard Younas Bhatti OFM

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To vote leaders into office is a legal right of every citizen in any civilized country no matter who that person is or what class of society he belongs to. Every citizen has the freedom to choose and to nominate someone to take responsible positions in government which is a service or ministering to the needs of the community.
In our country people are unaware of their rights and in effect do not realize their potential and the power they can exercise through the ballot in order to improve their living conditions and life in general.
All over Pakistan, local elections are echoing. People from every walk of life are involved in processes of choosing leaders at the local level, so that their problems are solved without having to wait or run around in circles.
These elections are party based, which again will bring to power, those who already dominate and control society. Consequently we see revenge politics in action. The needy will gain nothing or will not receive any assistance in solving their problems. Election to local bodies is part of a process of development at the grass-root level and is meant to give the common man an effective place in society, to provide a sense of being listened to and that every person is made to feel that they count.
In all elections, whether general or local, the majority is lamenting about what their right to vote actually amounts to, about how each time the masses are exploited in a way that the rich get richer and the poor just rot. In such a situation, minorities find themselves, voiceless, broken, hurt, and fearful.
Fear prevails everywhere among religious minorities; they are pushed back and not considered equal citizens in the country. There is so much pressure on the minorities in so many ways and laws have been made in the name of religion that do not safeguard even the most basic rights of a person. One has only to be falsely accused of blasphemy and they can be beaten, burnt to death and killed, and no protection is given to the minorities. After all the destruction some leaders will appear on media to console the minority communities, and then the same story will continue as usual. It seems as if this is the fate of the minorities who are very vulnerable to be scapegoats and victims of hatred and violence.
On the economic level there is very little opportunity for minority communities to enter into the field of business consequently a majority of people belonging to minority communities are working in religions institutions. Somehow some where it is the responsibility of the government to provide security and opportunity to these people.
On political level minorities are suppressed and are not given the right to vote leaders into positions through which their rights can be assured. The question is: where are the minorities to go and what are they to do?
It is a historical fact that the best institutes of education and medical care have been established by individuals and groups belonging to the minority communities. All these institutions have been and are serving the country without discrimination. Today even these are under threat, and in danger.
They are so many attacks on minorities and a sense of insecurity prevails to the extent that many of them want to run away from the country to a safer places.
What can be done, it is the big question now.
More than ever there is a need to create awareness among people that we all are human in the first place and we all need to live in peace, harmony and mutual understanding and responsible freedom. This is what all the great religions teach.
There must be religions freedom for the minorities. They must be included in every field of life from grassroots to the upper level in all walks of life. Mere empty words will not quench or satisfy their thirst.
Discriminating laws on every level need to be abolished or re framed in a more reasonable manner.
Minorities, must be given equal rights and opportunity in every field of life, of the country without any discrimination or prejudice.
Peace, justice, tolerance, harmony must prevail, and must be a part of the education system.
All discriminatory and hate literature be removed from education system.
Interfaith, workshops, seminaries, gatherings must be held, that aim at practical out comes and should be followed up. The Youth are a gift to society much potential to serve the country in a very positive way.
However we all need to work together in unity, to change ourselves and then extend peaceful, invitation to others to be the part of this much needed change.
(Father Bernard Y Bhatti OFM is Parish priest/ Administrator of St Philip’s parish, Karachi)

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