Discrimination Galore Against Paki Minorities

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Often at crossroads, Pakistan’s minority members are treated like second class citizens    

By Shankar Kumar

One may not believe it, but it is fact that Pakistan census doesn’t take into account members of the Sikh community. Last census in Pakistan was held in 1998 and Sikh community members who decided to stay back in that country even after the partition, failed to find a place in the census forms, indicating the height of discrimination prevalent in Pakistan and with this also, callous attitude of the government towards its citizens from the minority community. Sikhs have not only been deprived of benefits they could have derived from the government in jobs and admissions into educational institutions, they have also lost opportunity in having their representations in the country’s parliament and local bodies. This is a case of perjury and it reeks of the Pakistan government’s inclination to institutionalize discrimination on caste, religion and creed line.

A glimpse of this can be seen in the recent advertisement placed by Pakistan’s Punjab government in Jaang newspaper for the appointment of sweepers. Much to the discomfort of civilized people, this advertisement written in Urdu sought applications from Hindu, Christians and other members of the minority community to fill up sweepers’ 14 posts. In clear words, the advertisement referred to 5 percent quota for non-Muslims, hinting at the Pakistan government’s shameless perpetuation of bigotry in the name of safeguarding non-Muslim minorities’ rights and privileges. Whereas such despicable and abhorrent act of the government demanded strong condemnation, Pakistani media praised the government for its commendable action.

“The decision by the Punjab government to allocate five percent mandatory quota in government jobs for minorities is commendable because not only the Constitution of Pakistan, but our great religion Islam also gives non-Muslim minorities certain rights and privileges,” Pakistan Today maintained in its editorial on January 19. Clearly, this is subservience of Pakistani media and does what pleases the country’s government and the army. But then it speaks volume of prevalent mindset in Pakistan. Otherwise, how could Sindh University ask students to submit apologies in affidavits for celebrating Holi on March 8. Badar Soomro, the chair of the university’s mass communication department issued notices to students for celebrating Hindu festival on campus.

In a blog in Huffington Post in January 2016, Pakistani journalist Malik Siraj Akbar writes Hindus, Christians and other members from the minority community “are constitutionally barred from becoming the head of the government or the state. Sunni extremists routinely attack their places of worship, forcibly convert them into Islam and, in several cases, kidnap their women and compel them to marry Muslim men. The clergy and devout Muslims regularly use the notorious blasphemy laws as a blackmailing tool to provoke Muslim mobs to attack these non-Muslims or burn their homes based on wild accusations, such as the burning of the Quran or disrespecting Prophet Muhammad.” Ironically, those who speak against discrimination or religious persecution of minorities are either sidelined or violently silenced. In January 2011, Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed by bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri because he defended Aasia Bibi,  sentenced to death by a lower court on the charge of desecrating the Quran.  If media reports are to be believed, since 1990, dozens of people have been extra judicially killed as a result of blasphemy cases. But to the disappointment of liberals, thousands of people turned out for the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri in Rawalpindi when he was hanged to death in March 2016. No attempt was made by the government to stop such a huge gathering of people for the funeral of one whose act violently silenced a liberal who was dead against persecution of minorities under false charges.

Experts say while such incidents in turn encourage religious extremism, there are several instances where in institutions do engage in religious discrimination and fanaticism.  For example, a report published by Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) maintains: “Four primary themes that emerge most strongly as constituting the bulk of the curricula and textbooks…are that Pakistan is for Muslims alone; Islamiat is to be forcibly taught to all the students, whatever their faith, including compulsory reading of Quran; the ideology of Pakistan are to be urged to take the path of Jehad and Shahadat.” In any civilized country, such reports could have been banned, but under subterfuge designs of Pakistani establishment, these are only allowed to spread and spawned. With this, harassment of minorities has also increased. For instances, a report suggests that approximately two million minority community members in Pakistan are compelled to pay regular sums, as ransom to extortionists and local leaders in exchange for the physical security of their families and themselves.

In general no job higher than a clerk’s post is usually given to minorities. It is said that no Hindu or Christian can run a business without having a Muslim as a silent partner. But more shocking is the report which suggests that at the time of partition in 1947, Hindu population was anywhere between 15 to 24 percent, but by 1998 (when last census exercise was carried out) it shrank to 1.60 percent. Obviously, they have either migrated to India or have been forcibly converted into Islam. And this would perhaps surprise none who knows Pakistan, its historicity, state policies and ground realities with religious identity often being conflated with nationalism. State policies exclude minorities from governance structures. Consequently, hardliners don’t hesitate to equate minorities with foreign countries or treat them as an enemy. Last year, after attacking the All Saints Church in Peshawar, the terrorist outfit Jundullah claimed: “They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”   In this background, discrimination or targeting of minority community members could also be seen in the context of complicated distribution of resources, the flux in social structure and others. Whatever be the reason, however, Sikh community members have for now refused to lie low. They want their population’s official enumeration. Except for regretting Sikhs’ exclusion from the 1998 census, no commitment in their inclusion has been officially given by the Nawaz Sharif government. Therefore, it is in the realm of speculation as to what Pakistan’s state of affairs would be for its minorities.