Religious minorities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) did not observe National Minority Day, blaming the lack of commemoration on the provincial government’s apathy.
August 11 received official recognition in 2009 on the behest of late minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti. The date carries special significance as in 1947 Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave a speech at the assembly, telling the legislative body, the “first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.” The speech goes on to mark the freedom of all to access their place of worship, separating religion from the “business of the state”.
On Sunday, adherents of minority faiths complained the day was marked every year, but this year it largely passed by silently as the government showed no interest in doing something for the beleaguered communities.
Christians observed National Minority Day by holding two small events at the Edwardes High School and Elizabeth High School in Kohati. These include the singing of national songs, and other informative programmes to help create awareness of the rights of non-Muslims in the province. Senior Christian figures also addressed schoolchildren, telling them about their rights and responsibilities as members of society.
“We have complete freedom in this country, said Naeem Nazir. Christians celebrate Eid with their Muslim counterparts. Unfortunately, the government forgot to officially commemorate the day, he added.
Every year National Minority Day is celebrated at various missionary schools with the help of the government, pointed out Nazir. “The day should be officially marked by the K-P government to portray the province positively.”
“The government was unable to hold any event on minority day because of Eid celebrations,” argued Suran Singh, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPA.
“For the first time in K-P, we had finalised arrangements to celebrate the day.” Singh added National Minority Day will be held “after some days”. He claimed the PTI-led government is “fully committed towards minorities and not commemorating the day does not mean we (non-Muslims) have been ignored”. According to the MPA, his government has increased the quota for non-Muslims in government services.
“We even want to abolish the word minorities from Pakistan; all individuals should be considered equal citizens of the country,” he added.
All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement (APHRM) Chairman Haroon Sarbdial told The Express Tribune a lack of coordination persists between the government and minorities’ organisations. Hindus, like other minority faiths, are poor people, Sarbdial said, adding if the government could not hold events on the occasion, it should at the very least finance the events.
“There is a lack of organisation, a lack of commitment as well as a lack of concern in the government,” argued the APHR chairman. “This is why minorities are always ignored in K-P.” Last year the Awami National Party-led government officially hosted and supervised programmes which were of great support, he added.
“Growing sectarianism, religious violence and extremism have given the country a very negative image internationally. We should be provided maximum support from the government on such occasions,” maintained Sarbdial.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2013.