PAKISTAN: Despite all of their contributions minorities remain marginalised

An article from The Nation forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

R Umaima Ahmed

In August 2009, following the efforts of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti Federal Minister for Minorities who had earlier founded the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance in 1985, Mr Asif Ali Zardari the then President and Yousaf Raza Gilani the Prime Minster declared that August 11 would be National Minority Day. The day was to recognize the contributions of the minorities to Pakistan and pay respect to those who laid down their life in the service of the country.

August 11 was selected because it was on this date in 1947 that Quaid e Azam in his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan had made the famous speech in which he had said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

This year National Minority Day was celebrated with the ritual messages and events with the Pakistan’s Peoples Party organizing a big event to pay tributes to the Minorities of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s minorities have made great contributions to main stream Pakistani life; be it in the armed forces, education, media, politics, medicine, or generally in daily lives. They have made Pakistan proud on various forums too. Sir Zafarullah Khan, Mr. Justice A R Cornelius, Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, Dr. Abdus Salaam, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Danish Kanaeria, Arthur Nayyar, Dr. Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau, Dr. Mira Phailbus, Dr. Alexander John Malik, Deepak Perwani, Squadron Leader Peter Christy, Mr. Justice Retired Rana Bhagwandas, Rupinder “Rup” Singh Magon, Jogendranath Mandal, the actress Shabnum, Maj-Gen Kaizad Maneck Sopariwala, to name a few.

Despite all of their contributions and efforts, the minorities as a whole remain marginalized. Many have left Pakistan and others keep a low profile to stay out of the public eye. They have been cornered to an extent that now they prefer to not even discuss their thoughts and views.

On this National Minority Day 2015, some of them spoke up their minds and talked about their feelings and thoughts which are shared here with our readers.

Marian Sharaf Joseph, a Christian independent journalist and Young Peace Ambassador said, “It’s important to celebrate Minorities Day to make others realize we have equally struggled for the creation of Pakistan, and don’t forget there is a reason why (the) majority of Christians opted to migrate and live in the newly made Pakistan back in 1947. This day holds deep significance for us because it’s dedicated to the sacrifices we have made over the decades. It’s to commemorate those who have been wrongfully accused and made victim of injustice.”
She added: “Just dedicating a day to Minorities won’t help. But at least dedicating a particular day to the Minorities means we hold some significance as part of this nation. Issues related to Minorities need to be addressed on (a) day to day level – both among the community itself and with the Government. Those facing discrimination in their work place, educational institute, or in any other walk of life need not be fearful. They need to come forward and be brave enough to talk while others should learn to hear them speak out. Just one community or the minorities alone cannot build a peaceful Pakistan. Together we need to address each other’s issues and help resolve them.”

While speaking about education and reforms needed she said, “The right kind of education is needed to bring a change; while laws relating to Minorities rights need to be revised, schools should focus on character building, promote values of respect, tolerance and forbearance. Since it takes time to amend such laws, giving people the right education to mentally groom them should promote tolerance and brotherhood with those who do not belong to the same community as yours.”

Regarding threats to life and leaving Pakistan she said, “Never! To be honest no. I believe more and more educated people, regardless of their cultural and religious background, need to stay in Pakistan. Afterall, this is our homeland and unless we won’t work towards its prosperity how can we build a stable and prosperous nation.”

To a question on Zarb e Azb has made their life safer she said, “Zarb-e-Azb is dedicated to eradicating terrorism from Pakistan. When a suicide bomber attacks, he doesn’t focus on who’s who. Although there have been attacks on Imam bargas, Churches and Mosques alike let’s not forget they are all places of worship in Pakistan. When anything tragic happenssee how rescue teams, paramedics, hospital staff, and people in general come forth to help regardless of what faith one belongs too. There are many such tragic events to quote. Sadly these moments come as true testimonials of unity and one brotherhood. Zarb-e-Azb aims to safeguard us as one nation and secure Pakistan from terrorists, and one should not forget the Minorities have always played and continue to play a significant role in the armed forces be it the Wars of 1965 and 1971, operations like Zarb-e-Azb or in daily life. We as Minorities support and salute Zarb-e-Azb.”

Mukesh Meghwar is a Hindu peace activist and works as a bridge, between Hindus and Muslims through Sufism in District Badin, Sindh. He speaks on the complexities of life that the Hindu community faces in Pakistan.

“For me Minority Day sounds very insulting, because I am a secular Pakistani and this shows we are dividing the nation. Jinnah said minorities will have equal rights then why divide them by this day? Minorities are not treated the same way as it is said in the constitution. Muslims are treated better than us. If all people are equal then why we are not allowed to be the Prime Minister or President of Pakistan?”

Mukesh says, “As we are Hindus, people think we are from India, they don’t accept us as Pakistanis despite the fact that we have made many sacrifices for this mother land. One aspect of this is that girls in our area have been forced to convert to Islam and no one heard our plea about stopping this. Till the government does not work on uniting us, we will remain divided in various segments, we will never be one. The state has been working on extremism, tribalism, sectarianism, but not on uniting us as a nation. Sindh is full of extremists who have made our life miserable. They take us Hindus as Indians. How many Hindu agents have been caught in all this time for spying for India?”

Speaking about educational standards he said, “Our educational system is biased too; my niece asked me the other day, why does Allah only love Muslims. When I asked her who told you this, she said teacher told us in class that Allah only loves Muslims. I was speechless; she was too young to know the complexities of life.”

Qamar Suleman from the Ahmadi Community said “First of all we don’t consider ourselves as a minority in Pakistan but, it’s been over a 100 years now that we have been called Non-Muslims. If we look at history various riots have targeted us. In 1974, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto called the assembly and invited Mirza Nasir, to clear the position on their stance. But it was already decided that we will be declared Non-Muslims, and the constitution was amended to declare us as non-Muslims.”

He added: “In Zia ul Haq’s period we faced another wrath, Ordinance 20 was imposed, and as we were already declared non-Muslims, we were stopped from calling our places of worship as Masjid, give Azaan (call of prayer), nor even greet by saying Assalamualaikum. 295 C of the constitution is used against us often. Blasphemy charges are imposed on us for no rhyme or reason, which leads to us being “wajibulqatal.”

Omaid Malik, another Ahmadi and Co Editor of Pak Tea House an online page, and a peace activist, contends that Minority Day should be celebrated as it is the need of the hour, but it does not mean we should just create awareness on one day and forget it.

“Until and unless our parliament and legislators don’t work for better laws and ensure of implementing them this day will be of no good,” he said.

“The main issue in Pakistan is we make our relations based on belief, which is due to the steps that the state and intelligentsia has taken. They have not been able to control the negativity in the minds of the people against each other and today we are facing this discrimination. This will not end until and unless everyone unites against this mindset and force the government to change this system,” he added.

“In 2010 when the Ahmadies were attacked, Nawaz Sharif of PML-N said that Ahmadis were his brothers and he stood by them in that hard time. But soon after that the clergies of Pakistan asked him to apologies otherwise face consequences. When a leader of a country gets threats for supporting us then imagine what we go through?”

“No one from the minority community wants to leave Pakistan but those who do so are always forced to do so because once the element of violence gets involved then things cannot be controlled. Otherwise people just get use to this life in Pakistan, accept it and live it.”

Munawar Ali Shahid a journalist, human peace activist who works for various human rights international organizations in Germany said, “This day will only further divide people. Minority Day is against democracy and Article 25 of the constitution. Until and unless the state does not take actions against extremists and provide security to every national of the country, people will keep fleeing or suffering. I left Pakistan due to life threats which I got twice. There are many like me who have left Pakistan only for the reason that state was unable to protect their basic right to live.”

Sobering thoughts these! However one thing is for sure, minorities are as much a part of Pakistani life and nation as anyone else. However when we see divides on sectarian basis even among the majority, the far of the minorities is rightly placed.

About time we acted in the true spirit of the words of the father of the nation and create harmony, love, tolerance and understanding not on individual basis but as a nation!