The government on Tuesday disapproved a bill seeking a ban on liquor distribution and consumption by the country’s religious minorities.
The head of the Council of the Islamic Ideology (CII), Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, and 15 other lawmakers – including five non-Muslim MPs – had moved the bill, proposing to amend Article 37 of the 1973 Constitution.
However, the proposed legislation faced a serious setback when the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice requested Christian lawmaker Asiya Nasir and Hindu lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar, the movers of the bill, to withdraw it.
“This bill will earn international shame for Pakistan,” remarked the committee’s chairman Mahmood Bashir Virk. “The committee has, therefore, disapproved this bill,” Virk added.
But MNA Asiya refused to withdraw the bill and left the meeting to record her protest. “I am saddened and shocked today. I strongly stand by my stance. I will introduce another amended bill before parliament,” she told The Express Tribune.
Asiya justified the bill by citing several verses from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Dr Ramesh Kumar, a representative of the Hindu community, also argued in favour of a liquor ban, saying his community’s ‘dharam’ does not allow them to drink alcohol. “A few people in our religion are earning a bad name for our community which is not fair,” he said.
Dr Kumar said minority lawmakers wanted fresh legislation which could treat all as equal citizens. “Either ban liquor for all Pakistani citizens (Muslims and non-Muslims) or let all Pakistanis consume or sell liquor,” he said.
“Wine is strictly prohibited in Srimad Bhagavat. It is also most strictly prohibited for netas [dignitaries],” he added.
The proposed bill had suggested that in Article 37 in paragraph (h) of the Constitution, the words and commas “and, in the case of non-Muslims, religious purposes” should be omitted. Article 37 (h) reads: “Prevent the consumption of alcoholic liquor otherwise than for medicinal and, in the case of non-Muslims, religious purposes.”
The movers of the bill stated that due to the said permission, the minorities of Pakistan are facing defamation, agony, insult and discrimination. All the minorities agree that no religion allows the consumption of alcoholic liquor for religious purposes, they added.
They said all the religions existing in Pakistan are facing criminal proceedings and cases due to this clause, and local police register fake, false and frivolous cases against the minorities. This is the one of the reasons for the amendment of the said clause, the movers explained.
MNAs Maulvi Agha Muhammad, Qari Muhammad Yousaf, Phyllis Azeem, Reeta Ishwar, Muhammad Gohar Shah, Naeema Kishwar, Ameer Zaman, Kamal Khan Bangalzai, Alia Kamran, Sahibzada Tariqullah, Sher Akbar, Romina Khurshid Alam, Ramesh Kumar, Shahida Akhter and Shahida Akhter had signed the bill.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.
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