PAKISTAN: Minority Rights Day--year 2012 proved to be a nightmare for the religious minorities
The law enforcement agencies, the local court system and above all the government institutions are failing to protect the lives and properties of religious minorities all around the country.
As in previous years, 2012 proved a nightmare for the religious minorities in Pakistan. People from the Hindu, Dalit, Christian and Ahmadi communities and even the Shiite community, which is the second largest Islamic community, were persecuted by several state and non-state actors. During the entire year men, women and children of religious minorities were targeted with a designed agenda to force people to quit the country.
More than 200 persons from the Shiite community were killed in bomb blasts, target killings and attacks. Twelve men from the Ahmadi community were killed under blasphemy charges in the province of Punjab. Over 19 girls of Hindu minority and especially of Dalit community were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. Several Christians were also targeted, tortured and killed by arranged mobs and the local police. The Muslims and Christians were arrested and booked on the charges of blasphemy.
For a comprehensive report on the attacks and killings please see: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/pdf/ahrc-stm-270-2012-01/view
The Constitution of Pakistan was altered to persecute religious groups in the country and later on the term 'minority' was deliberately introduced to disfranchise Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Bahai and other groups from the mainstream, though they were equally law-abiding and taxpaying citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The Muslim fundamentalists, their militant organisations, the military governments and right wing political parties of Pakistan have been trying to replicate the Islamic model of Saudi Arabia which has generated an atmosphere of intolerance and violence by punishing ordinary people in the name of Islam. The gross misuse of blasphemy laws is one of the reasons society is turning into a killing field. Virtual anarchy rules in the country and total chaos is not far behind.
In the post-9/11 world, the debate on the clash of civilisations and war against terror has further destroyed the progressive and secular spirit of the majority people of the state as our security establishment has superseded the democratic and elected governments and has taken over the major decisions of the state.
The Ahmadis, a sect that believes in Islam and claims to be ardent followers, has been declared as non-Muslim under the Pakistani legislation. Evidently, the government of Pakistan has not only confiscated their freedom to faith, belief and practice, but also proactively victimised them socially, economically and educationally.
The Ahmadis are one such group which is denied their right to vote; they cannot register as a voter in Pakistan. It is a most shameful and horrifying fact that all Muslims in Pakistan in order to get their I.D cards which are essential for registering as a voter, have to make a mandatory declaration pronouncing the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community as an imposter and a liar. No civil society in the modern times can tolerate such arrogance of a country towards its own nationals.
Hindus under attack
On November 8, a group of Islamic extremists arrived at a Hindu temple on the outskirts of one of the country's largest cities, Karachi, shouting, "Kill the Hindus, kill the children of the Hindus." The group, which was armed with pistols, destroyed the temple fittings and ripped off the golden bangles worn by the women. The men and women were beaten indiscriminately and the attackers were so sure of their impunity from any action from the authorities they did not even bother to conceal their identities or cover their faces.
This was not an isolated case; indeed, it was the second time this particular temple has been attacked, and there have been many such incidents reported. Even Muslims who speak out in public in defence and support Hindus leave themselves open to attack.
Another area of concern which involves members of the Hindu and Christian minorities is that of forced marriage and conversion. Typically a Hindu girl goes missing and when she next contacts her family they find that she has been married to a Muslim boy. There have been numerous court hearings in several cases to determine whether the conversion was voluntary and in each case students from nearby madrassas attend court to intimidate the judges by chanting demands that the conversion be confirmed. An NGO worker said that in the 100 cases that he had personally worked on only one girl had been safely returned to her family.
For 2012 the theme for International Women's Day was 'Connecting girls, inspiring futures' and the entire world was promising to follow the theme. But on the other hand, unfortunately, girls and women of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially Hindu girls in Sindh, feel disconnected from the main-stream, humiliated with no hope. In the last couple of days in Sindh, four Hindu girls (Lata Kumari from Karachi, Rinkal Kumari from Mirpur Mathelo, Aamna Kohli from Tando Bago, were kidnapped and converted to Islam, allegedly at gunpoint.
Such crime has stopped the Hindu community from even celebrating their sacred festivals. In the last couple of weeks, more than a dozen minor children, traders, shopkeepers and businessmen of the Hindu community were reportedly kidnapped for ransom and several families have migrated due to insecure and unsafe future of their families and businesses.
According to the Daily Express Tribune the part of a disturbing trend in violence against minorities in the country, at least 27 places of worship of religious minorities have been vandalised in the last four years, according to data collected by the Church-run National Commission of Justice and Peace. The NCJP also recorded incidents of forcefully occupying land meant for worship places or occupying existing places, as well as murders of those involved in building worship places.
This year, three churches in Sindh, one in Mardan and one in Faisalabad were attacked; one Hindu temple was vandalised, one razed in Karachi and another attacked in Peshawar, while minarets of an Ahmadi place of worship were demolished in Kharian, Punjab. The perpetrators in all of these cases were 'unidentified men,' except for the Ahmadi worship place, where the minarets were demolished by the Punjab police.
On the issue of blasphemy laws; with the case of Rimsha Masih still grabbing the headlines, another case of blasphemy was reported to police on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012, this time not in a slum but in a middle-class neighbourhood of Gulshan-i-Iqbal, after the house of the accused boy belonging to a religious minority community was ransacked and furniture was set on fire in a violent protest. The teenage Christian boy has been accused of sending text messages containing 'blasphemous' content to his area residents without reading it. The incident took place in the staff colony of the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) located at the junction of University Road and Abul Hasan Ispahani Road.
School set on fire in Lahore:
An angry mob set a school on fire in Lahore, alleging that the school gave a test that insulted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). A Pakistani teacher at the centre of a blasphemy row was in hiding as her school management denied all responsibility for the 'dirty act' and called for her to be punished.
A large number of students, their parents and other people on Wednesday protested against a school administration for distributing a blasphemous essay sheet among students. The protesters later set the Farooqi Girls High School in Ravi Road area on fire. People in the area have been demanding police action against the teacher accused of blasphemy for the last couple of days.
On the same day a student organisation and residents of the area demonstrated against the school administration. They later broke the school gate and set its building and principal's car on fire. Police reached the site and resorted to aerial firing to disperse the mob. A citizen was injured during the protest and was admitted to hospital.
Police also arrested school Principal Asim Farooqi and registered a case against teacher Irfa Iftikhar under section 295/C on the complaint of Qari Abdullah Saqib. Principal Asim Farooqi said that he has already dismissed Irfa Iftikhar and that he too regrets the 'mistake'.
The extremists and the right-wing media, particularly some TV channels of the country, are portraying other religions as exotic and obscurantist. On the other hand, the same right-wing media of the West is calling Islam a backward and extremist form of faith. There is a need to promote interfaith dialogue to reduce the rapidly growing hatred and abhorrence.
Pakistan is known in the international community and declared in the country's Constitution as an Islamic nation where Islam is glorified as the superb religion and its followers are pious Muslims. There is no doubt that Islam teaches tolerance, love, respect for other religions, and that life and death are in the hands of Allah. The killing of any human being is forbidden and in the Quran it is the highest form of sin.
But how Islam is defined in practice is yet a big question in Pakistani society. In the absence of any clear definition about the implementation of Islam a strong perception has been widely spread that it can be implemented only through the violence and exemplary punishment to those who do not properly follow its precepts. Saudi Arabia, being the role model of Shariah and a real Islamic country, demonstrates its commitment every Friday by handing down death sentences that are then carried out by beheading. At the same time thieves have their hands removed.
The absence of the rule of law and a weak criminal justice system allows the increasing religious intolerance where the religious groups, with the help of the mushrooming growth of seminaries (Madressas) and mosques are enforcing their own tailored Islamic laws by killing, attacking, forcibly converting non-Muslims to Islam and implicating any person who stands in their way in blasphemy cases.