Double jeopardy: The smaller the minority the bigger its problems in Pakistan

Report released on survey of 1,000 Christian and Hindu women from Sindh and Punjab.

Our Correspondent March 20, 2012


Nearly 62 per cent of Hindu and Christian women fear that a majority of Muslims would not come to their aid if they were being discriminated against.

This was one of the findings of the study “Life on the Margins,” which was released by the National Commission for Justice and Peace at the Pakistan Medical Association House on Tuesday. The study is based on interviews of 1,000 women in 26 districts of Punjab and Sindh from 2010 and 2011.

Forty-three per cent of the women surveyed complained that they faced religious discrimination at either their workplace, educational institution or neighbourhood, while 27 per cent of them faced difficulties in gaining admissions to educational institutions. A majority of non-Muslim children polled said that they were forced to study Islamiat in school. Of the working women, 76 per cent said that they had to deal with sexual harassment.

The report points out that the literacy rate of these women is 47 per cent, which is below the 57 per cent national literacy rate. The infant mortality rate among minority communities turned out to be 314 infant deaths for every 3,050 live births, or 10.30 per cent, which is higher when compared with the World Health Organisation’s figure of the 8.7 per cent national infant mortality rate. Nearly 20 per cent of women were earning less than the minimum wage, 15 per cent of them lived in mud houses and 12 per cent in semi-brick ones.

While speaking at the occasion, the newly ordained Archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, emphasised action and support. “These issues will not be resolved unless the silent majority accepts that they exist in society,” he said. He compared the current state of denial of these issues to the one that once existed about  Aids when people would not even talk about it. He called for a documentation of cases of kidnappings, forced marriages and conversions within minority communities.

Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi declined to comment about the controversy surrounding Rinkle Kumari’s conversion as the case was in court. However, she tried to raise the morale of members of the minority communities by saying that most of the people in the country were standing with them. “A majority of our population is not biased. It is just a small population of maulvis who spread hatred.”

Nearly 80 per cent of Pakistanis live on the margin, as they do not have access to justice and resources, and that the problems faced by women of minority communities were similar to those faced by Muslim women in the country. Nearly 66 per cent of non-Muslim women were not allowed to marry of their own free will, according to the report, and Rizvi said that a majority of Muslim women were also forced into marriage.

Mangla Sharma, who is the chairperson of the Pak-Hindu Welfare Association, said that minority women felt alienated from the country’s politics because they are not currently represented in parliament, and called for a quota to be established to resolve the discrepancy. Sharma also claimed that Rinkle Kumari was brainwashed and forcibly converted, and said that when a man claims to convert a woman, his religious background should be checked.

MPA Saleem Khokhar lauded the commission’s efforts for presenting a report on such a topic while extremism and injustice are on the rise. He said that blasphemy laws were being misused in the country, and referred to the deaths of a governor and a federal minister when they sympathised with Aasia Bibi.

The commission’s Peter Jacob called for a body to be set up to look into cases of forced conversions of non-Muslim women. The definition of the word “discrimination” should also be established, to include restrictions on the basis of religion as well.

Nazish Brohi, who contributed to the study, said that that women of minority communities face “double jeopardy,” as they have to face discrimination on two accounts: because of their sex and their religion.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2012.


sundar | 11 years ago | Reply

Those blaming ET for highlighting this issue needs to put themselves in the minority shoes. Imagine your sister being abducted and forcibly converted to other religion. Try to relive the pain and agony of their parents. Try once taking your dumb & brainwashed head from the sand and see what is happening to minorities in your godforsaken country.

Pakistan Politics AKA Divisive Alien Slavery | 11 years ago | Reply

People who converted for economic and other life threatening exigencies have to create or overhaul their identity. Please google how Sir Iqbal's grand-dad one Mr. Sapru, a Kashmiri Pandit, converted, took new Arabic name and moved to Sialkot to save his life when caught red-handed in embezzlement of state funds. Similarly our dear Quide's grand-dad, a Bhatia Rajput, converted to do business of tannery and get new contracts. No wonder Quide was not a practicing Muslim. But the same apparently liberal people cause immense problems by their divisive politics. No alien religion has caused conversion for the spiritual reasons. It has been always under life and economic threats. Today our leaders are converting to Bushism which asks the new converts to answer if "they are either with us or against us." Their answer is the new Kalma. Same thing happened when whole of Iran got converted to Arabism. Natives of Iran, Iraq & Syria tried to save their culture and language by creating Shia-ism. I see in the world only Boudha, Yoga & Meditation spreading without asking the natives to give up their native identity. That is why today in Japan & China we find native with native names and at the same is Taoist, Confucian and Boudh. Until we have such spirituality where a native Sawati can name his daughter as Saraswati and not Sara and who does 5 times Namaz as meditation facing the northern mountain, we will go on dividing people for petty politics and cause immense harm to urselves and our progeny.

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