PAKISTAN Minority rights recognized only on paper in Pakistan

A Christian was fatally injured for swimming in a tube-well pool used by Muslims. Although the country’s constitution protects religious freedom, minorities continue to face discrimination in terms of equality, education and political representation. Theocracy has deep roots in the laws of the land.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – “I saw my son bleeding, bruised, unconscious. I called out his name, splashed his face and slapped him gently to wake him up, but he was not moving, ”said Ghafoor Masih, a Christian father of Saleem Masih, who was beaten to death in Baguyana village on February 25.

The 24-year-old was punished for swimming in a tube-well pool used by Muslims. His father opened up about the incident that led to his son’s death in an interview with the British Pakistani Christian Association, a non-profit organization.

Pakistan split from India in the name of religious freedom, but it is now home to many Ghafoor Masihs, who are demanding justice for their loved ones; all religious minorities are discriminated against in the country, not just Christians.

Why are minorities in Pakistan victims of repression? Was the country founded only for Muslims? Of course not. Its founder, Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) Muhammad Ali Jinnah paid great attention to religious freedom.

“You are free;” Jinnah said, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You can belong to any religion, caste or belief that has nothing to do with the business of state. “

For not following Jinnah’s words, Pakistan has become the 7th most dangerous place in the world for religious minorities, according to Human Rights Watch.

The problem goes back a long way. The discrimination began in 1949, just after the Constituent Assembly approved the resolution of the goals that all laws must conform to Islamic precepts.

Pakistani Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, paid the price and was dismissed from his post at the behest of religious scholars.

Since the resolution was adopted, minorities have lived in fear as discrimination spreads across the country, making their lives worse.

According to government statistics, Pakistani minorities have grown from over 20 percent in 1951 to 3.74 percent today, as the latest census shows.

Minorities in Pakistan have suffered greatly, from rape to forced marriages, from verbal abuse to mental torture, from physical injuries to brutal killings.

Pakistan’s constitution gives ample space for the freedom of minorities. The country is also bound by many international treaties that protect their rights. However, there is a huge difference between what is written and what is practiced.

The constitutional and international obligations of the state

Under article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Pakistan must guarantee every minority the right to freely profess and practice their religion and to use their language.

Likewise, Article 22 (1) of the Pakistani Constitution prohibits schools from forcing students to receive instruction or participate in any ceremony other than that of their faith.

Despite what is in the law, various school boards impose the teaching of Koranic and Islamic verses. Non-Muslim students are required not only to read them, but also to memorize them.

Ethics was introduced into the national curriculum as an alternative subject to Islam for non-Muslim students. However, many schools still do not teach this course due to a lack of qualified staff.

Equality

Article 25 (1) of the Constitution guarantees full equality of all citizens. At the same time, article 18 of the ICCPR recognizes the freedom to have and adopt any religion or faith of one’s choice.

Yet, according to the Solidarity and Peace Movement, around a thousand girls and young women, aged 12 to 28, of non-Muslim (mainly Hindu) origin, are forcibly converted each year and forced to marry Muslim men. The authorities generally do not take any serious action against such criminal acts.

Religious institutions

Article 20 of the Constitution gives each faith community the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institution.

Research by the Center for Social Justice and the National Commission for Justice and Peace has revealed more than 50 cases of criminal attacks on minority places of worship over the past two decades.

During the same period, nearly 40 armed actions carried out by extremist groups were reported.

Representation

Article 36 of the Constitution protects the rights and legitimate interests of minorities, including their representation in federal and provincial institutions.

The problem is that the authorities – at different levels of government – have failed to protect the interests of minorities.

The country’s National Assembly reserves 10 out of 342 seats for them. In the Punjab provincial parliament, 8 out of 371 seats are reserved; 9 out of 168 in Sindh; 3 of 124 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and 3 out of 51 in Balochistan. Is it a fair share?

Many other rights are formally recognized by law, but not in everyday reality. The drafters of the constitution had determined that the state would not be governed by theocratic principles.

Unfortunately, the discrimination against minorities shows that the theocracy has deep roots in Pakistani laws.

The matter must be taken seriously, very seriously. Otherwise, hundreds of thousands of Saleem Masihs will die every day and offenders will never pay for their crimes.


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