A Hindu lawmaker has submitted a bill in the lower legislative house seeking a constitutional reform. If passed, the amendment would ensure that Pakistan’s religious minorities are constitutionally referred to and identified as non-Muslims.
The suggestion comes from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Member of National Assembly Keeso Mal Kheeal Das, who issued a notice to National Assembly Secretariat, for introducing a private member bill; under rule 118 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007, on April 19, 2021.
The PML-N lawmaker is of the view that the constitution currently discriminates against millions of Pakistani non-Muslims by ambiguously referring to them as minorities. According to him, the inaccurate reference gives the impression of being second-class citizens.
In the bill expected to be introduced in the upcoming sessions, Das has suggested that the act shall be called the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2021 and it shall come into force at immediately.
The lawmaker has sought an amendment in the preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan, stating that for the word "minorities", occurring twice in the preamble, the expression ‘non-Muslims’ shall be substituted. He has also asked to make an amendment in Article 36 of the Constitution by substituting the word ‘minorities’, wherever occurring, with the expression ‘non-Muslims.’
The said preamble states, “wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures” and “wherein adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes.”
Whereas, Article 36 (protection of minorities) mentions that the state shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.
“It is against the spirit of the Constitution, 1973, to discriminate against a large number of population by declaring them minority, when the sacrifices of that population are remarkable in every sphere of life for the prosperity, growth and bright future of the country,” expressed Das, in the statement of objectives and reasons for his bill. “The word ‘Minority’ is used for four times [in the constitution] while the word ‘non-Muslims’ is used 15 times, which reflects the intent of the makers of the Constitution. Therefore, the anomaly shall be omitted by substituting the word minority’ with the word non-Muslims,” he added.
The lawmaker maintained that as a politician and a member of the non-Muslim community, whose research covers interfaith dialogue, tolerance and religious freedom, he hopes that the bill will lead to meaningful discussion for a better democratic life in Pakistan. “This constitutional amendment will be a constructive effort to establish equality and justice for every citizen to build Pakistan as a home for everyone,” he opined.
The government however did not have any reservations about the lawmaker’s proposal, and the Deputy Speaker, upon hearing Das out, has referred the bill to the relevant standing committee.
Read more: ‘Govt stands with minority communities’
Pakistan in numbers
According to the provisional results of the 6th Population and Housing Census, the country’s population stands at 207 million. Reportedly, as per the provisional results showing religious distribution, Muslims constituted 96.28 per cent of the total population in 1998, but 19 years later the share of Muslims in total population has increased to 96.47 per cent.
Considering overall population increased by 75.4 million persons, the reports stated, followers of all religions have grown in absolute terms. Wherein, the Hindu population increased from 1.6 per cent to 1.73 per cent or 3.593 million individuals. It added further, that the population share of scheduled castes also increased from 0.25 per cent to 0.41 per cent.
The reports maintained that the share of Christian population, however, decreased from 1.59 per cent of the total population in 1998 to 1.27 per cent in 2017. Similarly, the population of Ahamdis also decreased from 0.22 per cent to just 0.09 per cent. The population share of other religions also reduced from 0.07 per cent to 0.02 per cent.
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