The frightening truth of religious intolerance against minorities in Pakistan. By Nasir Saeed

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Religious intolerance and hatred against religious minorities in Pakistan have been rife for several decades, and yet, it is hardly ever recognised and addressed by the government. This obliviousness and negligent lack of action has caused severe damage to the fabric of Pakistani society and threatens to continue if it is not challenged.

Though discrimination based on religion at a governmental level started in the early days of Pakistan, Pakistani society was far more tolerant compared to modern times. Pakistan’s political system and government policies continue to contribute to the promotion of religious intolerance and hatred against religious minorities.

More or less every government has contributed its share of intolerance instead of choosing to eradicate and diminish the evil of religious hatred. In this regard, Zia’s era will always be remembered as a dark period in Pakistan’s history, but now it seems like an everyday matter.

It is not that the present government is unaware of its severity; Atif Mian’s case is the worst example, but the issue is not a priority for Pakistan’s politicians.

There are several reports published on this matter by local and international organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the US Commission on international Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report, which is published annually. Despite this blatant reporting, it seems that every government just denies the facts.

Pakistan continues to be re-designated as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)”. Pakistan has vehemently opposed the recent report and reiterated the same old rhetoric that religious minorities are safe and enjoy equal rights, while the reality is very different. Unfortunately, Pakistani governments repeatedly fail to understand the seriousness of this situation despite the examples being widely condemned every day.

Denying the facts or living in a state of denial is not the best policy. Still, in the best interest of the people and the wider country, such challenges must be accepted with open hearts and should be resolved with contemplation.

Minorities in Pakistan suffer and face discrimination in every sphere of their lives, but our media hardly pays any attention. Nonetheless, it is making headlines in the international media. We are living in a digital age where the internet has become an essential part of our lives, and it is this negative information and news that are shared every day in realtime. No matter how much people may want it to go away, nothing can be hidden. The Pakistani diaspora (non-Muslims) takes such information seriously as they believe that their fellow religionists are being mistreated, while Pakistani Muslims are enjoying high ranking and ministerial posts in the West, especially in the UK.

We criticise others for mistreating Muslims, especially our neighbouring country. Many of us call Hinduism a religion of violence, warfare and force, but Mahatma Gandhi, a reformer, had rejected the violence and adopted a policy of non-violence. It was his followers who founded the country based on secularism (which is gradually fading).

Minorities in Pakistan suffer and face discrimination in every sphere of their lives, but our media hardly pays any attention

But we have ignored Quaid-e-Azam’s 11th August speech, and until today we have failed to recognise non-Muslims as equal citizens of Pakistan. Our constitution bars them from taking the office of president and prime minister.

Recently,there have been several statements from President of Pakistan Dr ArifAlvi, Governor of Punjab,and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan that minorities in Pakistan are safe and enjoy equal rights. The background of these statements is the ongoing riots and treatment of Muslims in India, but the reality is much different in Pakistan. We must condemn what is going on in our neighbouring country, but we must put our house in order too.

Though minorities have been suffering for the last 70 years and there is a long list, let’s look at the incidents from this year. There are many incidents of rape of young Christian girls, forced conversion, hindering the construction of churches, and torturing and killing innocent people for being non-Muslims. All these horrors are freely available to see on social media and international media websites. The real number will be even higher as people choose privacy, and several don’t know where to turn for help in such situations, finding themselves pressured to come to a compromise.

Saleem Masih, 22, of Baguyana village, Kasur, is the latest victim of religious hatred. He died on 28th February after being tortured by Sher Dogar, a local landowner; his only crime was to wash after unloading a truck of husks. Dogar and other men tortured him with sticks and iron rods before rolling an iron rod over his body, causing multiple fractures in his left arm and ribs. Saleem died five days later.

Though the police have registered a case against Dogar, Ghafoor Masih, Saleem’s father, has accused the police of acting as spectators as they pleaded with the landowners to take his unconscious son for medical aid.This is not the first time, but police are often accused of being complicit and not discharging their duties responsibly when it comes to the matter of non-Muslims. In Gojra and Joseph colony incidents, the police were accused of the same.

If the police had acted timely and responsibly, Saleem’s life could have been saved. Ghafoor Masih doesn’t have much hope for justice as the perpetrators are influential and getting justice is expensive in Pakistan. It is not the only case where a non-Muslim has been accused of polluting water. Asia Bibi suffered nine years in prison, and Javed Anjum was tortured for five days for drinking water from the tap of a madrassah. He died after 11 days in the hospital.

In another case earlier last month, two brothers, Azeem and Sajid, were shot in the head, while another member of their family was injured with an axe for building a church in Sahiwal. The perpetrators are already on bail and openly challenging the law.

In January a mob attacked the Sikh shrine, Nankana Sahib Gurdwara, the holiest place of Sikhs following the abduction and conversion of a Sikh girl, Jagjit Kaur, renamed Ayesha Bibi. Although timely action was taken in this case, nothing is being done to stop such incidents happening in Pakistan, and no one is learning the hard lessons from the situation in our neighbouring country.

Now is the best time to implement the order of the Supreme Court to establish a National Commission for Minority Rights, making a functional National Human Rights Commission, looking into school and college curriculum that teaches hatred against non-Muslims. The Supreme Court directives referring to the Christian community as ‘Masihi’ not Esaimust be implemented, and all the legislations that have been pending for some time must be passed.

There is an urgent need to look into this matter seriously to stop the ongoing violence against religious minorities, as such acts of violence are severely damaging the effort of Prime Minister Imran Khan of showcasing a new Pakistan. The time is now; we need change.

(The writer is a human rights activist)

Courtesy: Daily Times

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