“Those who believe in peace and tolerance are a majority and must take charge of the country,” Justice (retired) Nasira Iqbal said on Friday.
Justice Iqbal was addressing a convention organised by the Peace and Tolerance Alliance (PTA) in collaboration with the Strengthening Participatory Organisation Pakistan (SPO-Pak) at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) offices.
She said that Jinnah had dreamt of a Pakistan where all citizens would have equal rights irrespective of their religious affiliations.
However, she lamented that religious minorities had been deprived of rights in the country.
“We have to do more than putting the rights of minorities in the constitution,” she said. “We have to ensure that these rights are also upheld.”
She said the blasphemy laws were being used to persecute minorities and deprive them of their property.
“Most blasphemy cases are used to unjustly occupy land,” she said.
She said that a number of people that had served the country had belonged to religious minorities.
She praised the late Justice Alvin Cornelius as the most competent judge in the country’s history.
Mehboob Ahmed Khan, a human rights activist, said that a country which persecuted religious minorities through both unfair laws and social discrimination could not progress.
He said that the Jinnah’s dream was being mocked.
He recalled that Cecil Chaudhry and said he had put his Pakistani identity above his religious.
“He fought in wars to safeguard the entire country, not just Christians,” he said.
Amarnath Randhawa, a representative of the Hindu community, said that Hindus are one of Pakistan’s largest religious minorities. “We were promised a lot, from equal rights to respect,” he said.
He said that there were more than 500,000 Hindus in the Punjab. Most of their worship places had been unjustly occupied, he said. “We suffer at the hands of the majority in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where the state religion promises security to religious places,” he said.
He said that educated Hindu girls were being forced to stay home for fear of forced conversions.
Aftab Hussain, a member of the Hazara community, said, “The silent majority needs to wake up and fight for the rights of the oppressed.”
He said that despite persecution, Hazaras had decided to fight their war peacefully.
“We will not respond to violence with violence,” he said. “This is the lesson everyone needs to learn.”
“Minorities must be brought into the mainstream to end social disparity,” Hussain said.
SPO regional director Salman Abid said that religious extremism had increased due to a weak democratic system. He said that the failure of political forces meant that the state had become party to religious discrimination.
The convention ended with PTA convener Samson Salamat putting forward demands that were unanimously adopted by the participants of the convention. These included ensuring that state policies and laws are free of religious discrimination, the blasphemy laws be ended and the curricula be revised to end discriminatory content.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2012.