On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to safeguard religious sites around the world, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution was proposed by Saudi Arabia, co-sponsored by Pakistan and other countries in the developing world, and supported by the United States and the EU. However, it was not long before delegates from India and Pakistan started arguing over the status of minority rights in each other’s territory. Unfortunately, a number of countries are failing when it comes to protecting and preserving the right to life and dignity of minority citizens – and this discrimination is often endorsed by the state and preserved by society, by the adoption of discriminatory laws, prejudice and ignorance. This includes many governments that sponsored the resolution. For example, at UNGA, the Indian delegate referred to a mob attack on a Hindu shrine in Karak, KP, to highlight the insecurity felt by minorities in Pakistan. Yet around the same time, towards the end of the previous year, community violence erupted in parts of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. Indeed, the radicalized elements on the other side of the border are more than marginal elements and follow the example of the Hindutva government.
With regard to Pakistan, the government has made some progress in recent years in preserving places of worship for minorities. In April 2019, the government announced the reopening of the 1,000-year-old Shawala Teja Singh temple in Sialkot, sealed for 72 years and attacked by a mob in 1992. Then, in November 2019, Pakistan inaugurated the corridor from Kartarpur, with around 12,000 pilgrims in attendance, which enabled Sikhs from India and the Diaspora to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism. However, in July 2020, construction of the Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad was halted following threats and the destruction of the surrounding wall. In its efforts to protect the rights of minorities, Pakistan must also focus on changing attitudes.
Posted in Dawn, January 24, 2021