A new report released by the National Commission of Justice and Peace provides yet more evidence that the constitutional rights guaranteed to minorities exist only on paper and rarely in practice. According to the report, at least nine different places of worship, including five churches, one temple and one Ahmadi place of worship, have been destroyed this year. Of the nine, eight were attacked by mobs while the Ahmadi place of worship was dismantled by the police. The double standard here is glaring. Authorities dare not take action against mosques that may have violated building codes and are patently unsafe or those built on encroached land. And, just a few days ago, the Punjab government backed down from a proposal to charge mosques the same rate for gas as others are charged. Meanwhile, minorities have to worry about their lives each time they enter their places of worship.
The problem is not just of legal indifference to the rights of minorities but active societal discrimination. A combination of factors makes it all but impossible for minorities to receive the same rights as those of the majority faith. Religious intolerance in society is often exploited by those who have more worldly aims. Often, opportunists are looking simply to take over lucrative land and hence whip up sentiment against minority groups to take over their property. The police, unwilling to get involved in ostensibly religious disputes, simply step aside and even refuse to register cases. Once religious fervour has been tapped, prosecutors and judges are too afraid to do their jobs properly. At every level of society, both civil and official, fear and bigotry end up ruling.
Those few brave individuals, like Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who dare to speak up against this injustice are promptly assassinated and, even in death, further marginalised by spineless politicians. It is too easy to say that the state needs to start protecting the rights of minorities when there is a distinct lack of leadership on the issue. If change is going to come it will be painfully slow because it requires society to change itself, to stop giving into its worst instincts and finally learn the value of humanity. It requires a revolution in education where bigotry is replaced by tolerance. We can only change society if we first change ourselves from within.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2012.