Minorities’ plight

“All citizens of Pakistan, including the minorities, are free to practise their religion.” The statement uttered by none other than Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed is valid enough to guarantee constitutional rights to every Pakistani irrespective of his or her religion. Yet the ground realities are bleak and the situation is pathetic regarding treatment of the minorities in society. An impartial review of the status of minorities in the country reveals that the members of minority communities are living under the fear of subjugation by religious zealots. The virulent and intolerant right wing religious groups are gaining increasing space in Pakistan, while the freedoms of minorities are vanishing. The issues faced by minorities included forced conversions and forced marriages (often together), the misuse of the blasphemy laws, and unfair treatment of non-Muslims. The pattern of discrimination against members of faiths other than Islam, starts from schools and goes all the way up to parliament. School curricula and teachers either ignore minorities or portray them in a derogatory way. This is particularly true of Hindus and Christians.

There is discrimination against non-Muslims that has permeated all levels of the society. This is not merely about legal rights as most of them are in place. It is about the terror and persecution that minority groups have to face in Pakistan. Religious seminaries have produced individuals in Pakistan who subscribe to a dialectic of religious purity in which the reason behind Pakistan’s formation was convoluted into a supposedly ‘pure’ space for Muslims to live and be free from the influences of Hindus and other ‘non-Muslims’. Hence, religious minorities have been targeted by accusing them of serious offences. They are ostracised from society, and even the anachronism of the caste-based practice of keeping at a certain distance the untouchables applied to certain religious minorities. There is a big segment of Pakistani society that is proudly intolerant and they parade their beliefs with sanctimonious self-assurance. Ironically, the country that was created to safeguard the political rights of Indian Muslims turned into one in which its own minorities were not safe.