As Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities across Pakistan recount numerous horrific attacks, Minority Rights Group International, a watchdog organisation, has ranked Pakistan as the world’s top country in terms of increases in threats to minorities since 2007.
This was said by PEAD Executive Director Samina Gul at a talk titled “Cultural diversity under threat in Pakistan. While addressing a group of journalists at the National Press Club here, Gul said that the increase in threats and cases had landed Pakistan as seventh on the list of ten most dangerous countries for minorities, behind Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar and DR Congo.
She said religious minorities are believed to represent far more than the estimated five per cent of Pakistan’s 180 million population, with Christians alone representing five to six per cent. Moreover, she claimed the Pakistani census intentionally keeps minority figures low to deny them greater representation.
According to the European Organisation of Pakistani Minorities, events of violence against minorities in terms of target killing, sectarian killing, torching of holy books and temples, rape, murder, forced conversion, and abductions in the past six months have effected up to 150 Shias, 23 Hazaras, 45 Hindus, 21 Sikhs, 66 Christians, 22 Ahmadis and 13 others.
Over 27 incidents of desecration of temples and holy books of religious minorities have occurred in the past six months. Around 5,000 Hindus migrate from Pakistan to India and other countries every year due to religious persecution. According to another report, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are forced to convert and marry Muslim men every year.
Gul said pending bills such as the Hindu Marriage Act must be passed by the assembly to discourage forced conversions and marriages. Pakistan had signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in April 2008 and ratified it in June 2010. Thereby, the country is morally bound to make laws in its conformity, but nothing much had been done so far, she said.
Ashok Chand, Vice chairman of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement (APHRM) Pakistan said that not only are minorities facing threats, their rights to perform religious duties are also limited. He said that temples are under the control of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, giving them little or no say if they want to improve or upgrade them. Moreover, the only temple in Islamabad is in Saidpur village and is under CDA control, which is also unfair. He suggested that the government should increase employment and education quotas for minorities.
PML-N parliamentarian Tariq Afzal assured that the present government was trying its best to address minorities’ concerns. He said that while the country was struggling to meet crucial challenges in trying to obtain peace and security, issues relating to minorities were also a priority on the government’s agenda. He said that the minority wing was established to carefully monitoring issues such as forced marriages and conversions and find possible solutions to address them.
He said that people seeking asylum had decreased over time. He said political and religious forces must be on the same page to address such issues.
JUI spokesman Jan Achakzai said the root cause of extremism was differing narratives on the Taliban. “We need to have a single agenda to counter militancy in Pakistan. Militancy is a national problem, and Pakistan needs to have a single narrative on this,” He said.
National Press Club President Shehryar Khan said the media was ‘controlled’ and minorities’ issues were only highlighted when a case was brought forward.
The event was organised by PEAD Foundation and REAT Network in collaboration with National Press Club.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2014.