LAHORE: Haroon Arif, a young Christian student from Dera Ghazi Khan, was heartbroken when his dream of becoming a doctor was shattered. He had fallen short by 12 marks from the cut-off point to get admission to a medical college.
Even more disappointing for him was that several students below him on the merit list got admissions to medical schools because they were Hafiz-e-Quran. Under the prevalent education rules, the students who have memorised the Holy Quran get 20 additional marks in Intermediate exams.
Haroon went to the Lahore High Court, pleading that his knowledge of the Bible was at par with those students who had memorised the Holy Quran and that he should be given 20 extra marks as well.
The court ruled it was a policy matter and it was the government’s job to make policies. His plea was dismissed
This was in 2012. Haroon did not get admission to a medical school and instead got enrolled in dentistry.
Towards the end of 2013, Punjab Human Rights and Minority Affairs Department moved a summary to the Chief Minister Office, recommending that non-Muslim students, who have learned the holy scriptures of their respective religions, should also be given 20 additional marks to treat them on equal footing with their Muslim counterparts.
Three years on, the summary is still lying in some dark corner of the CM House.
The issue of 20 additional marks is a lot more complex. The Hafiz-e-Quran students get these extra marks at every educational stage starting from Matriculation.
“We calculated that they actually manage to get 60 additional marks from Matriculation till Master’s and even in the public service commission exam,” a senior official told The Express Tribune. “We have recommended that non-Muslim students should not have the disadvantage [just because of their faith].”
Muslim students who do not memorise the Holy Quran get no additional marks. The summary suggests that students from Christian, Hindu, Sikh and other faiths may also be asked to learn some scriptures from their religious books suggested by their respective scholars.
Shunila Ruth, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker in Punjab Assembly, believes the government is not serious in giving equal rights to the minorities. “When Human Rights Minister Khalil Tahir Sindhu proposed this summary, I signed it for the betterment of minorities despite some differences,” she said. “Three years have passed and the CM Office has done nothing to give equal status to the non-Muslim students [who have learned their holy books].”
“We all are Pakistanis and we should be treated equally under the Constitution,” Shunila said. “I appreciate the fact that students are given 20 extra marks for memorising the Holy Quran but that should be applicable to the non-Muslim students as well.”
The MPA alleged the PML-N government had always been insensitive towards minorities, especially Christians. “To bring minorities’ students at par with Muslims, there should be special seats in professional schools for them on a 5% quota,” she suggested.
Advocate Nadeem Anthony, a member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), believes minorities’ students are already marginalised and discriminatory policies further discourage them. “It is a good thing that Muslim students are given extra marks for memorising the Holy Quran, but this policy should also be implemented for non-Muslim students who have learned about their religion or memorised their holy books,” he said.
Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Minister Khalil Tahir Sindhu said the ministry was awaiting the approval of the summary pending with the chief minister or if there were instructions to follow.
When contacted, the Chief Minister Office admitted the summary was submitted a while ago and they would have to look into it before responding to queries.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2016.