Shrinking space: Equal rights, social justice for minorities sought

MNA asks govt to make Saidpur temple functional


Our Correspondent August 12, 2016
US Ambassador David Hale, former federal minister for national harmony Dr Paul Jacob Bhatti and other at a seminar held by All Pakistan Minorities Alliance Here on Thursday. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Speakers have demanded an end to discriminatory laws, forced conversions, especially in Sindh and misuse of certain laws and violence against non-Muslim communities.

They expressed concern at shrinking space for the minorities and demanded electoral reforms and equal citizenship rights.

The speakers including lawmakers, diplomats, religious figures, intellectuals and rights campaigners also sought reforms in the electoral system, equal representation at all political forums for minorities.

They were addressing two separate seminars held here on Thursday to mark International Minorities Day.

The first seminar was organised by All Pakistan Minorities Alliance at a local hotel that was attended by US Ambassador David Hale, Australian High Commissioner Margaret Adamson along with other diplomats.

Addressing on this occasion, former federal minister and chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance Paul Bhatti demanded equal representation and an increase in the number of reserved seats in parliament for religious minorities. He also demanded the removal of the controversial clauses from the constitution, equal rights to the minorities at all levels, including the highest position of the state; dual vote system for minorities.

Meanwhile, speakers at a separate seminar, organised by the Shaheed Bhutto Foundation demanded an end to the systematic suppression of minorities and deplored the state’s failure to protect them.

“Is anyone really free to go to their temples or any other places of worship in Pakistan today? I don’t think so,” said Christian Study Centre Executive Director Jennifer Jagjivan.

She said that forced conversions, particularly in Sindh, grabbing of worship places, misuse of the blasphemy laws, mob violence, ghettoisation and the subsequent migration of minorities were a few challenges facing the country.

“Our children can be taught about Jihad, but not about what the Quaid said about the rights of religious minorities,” said MNA Lal Chand Malhi.

“Whenever a Hindu talks about any such issue in the parliament, he is told about the injustice being meted out to Muslims in India. Whenever we talk about a minority-related issue in the National Assembly, the speaker says “your statement has been recorded”.

He also demanded that a temple in Saidpur village should be made functional. He said the authorities once told him that they could not provide security to the temple. “They can provide security to restaurants but not to the temple,” taunted Malhi.

Rights defender and director of Peace and Development Foundation Romana Bashir said that the minorities enjoyed partial freedom.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa former governor Kausar Masood observed that intolerance had grown and lamented that efforts were being made to make Pakistan a theocratic state.

“People who are dividing us today on the basis of religion, they did not create Pakistan, they were against its creation,” Barrister Masood said.

Meanwhile, members of civil society and the Hindu community staged a protest demonstration outside the National Press Club against forced conversions in Sindh. According to a press release, the protesters also demanded arrests of Mian Mithoo and Peer Sarhandi, who they said were behind the forced conversions in Ghotki and Umerkot districts.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2016.

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