NADRA’s decision to add a third option under the gender category of CNICs and even hire some transgender data operators is a noteworthy move. However, there is still a long way to go before Pakistan can make any claims to have achieved a basic level of tolerance. Making our country more tolerant will require multidimensional efforts. There must be a sustained resolve to improve human rights records. In this regard, the failure of the police to punish human rights violations must not be ignored.
Human rights violations are, unfortunately, both frequent and varied. They include perturbing instances of torture, extra-judicial killings, domestic abuse, rape, forced marriage and religious conversion. While the prosecution of minorities is not confined to Pakistan alone, it seems difficult to understand why and how anyone could feel threatened by religious minorities in our country, where they make up a minute fraction of the population.
Religious minorities cannot exercise their political rights and remain vulnerable to prosecution due to problematic legislation.
The marginalisation of minorities is a violation of both national and international legislations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory. Moreover, Article 20 of Pakistan’s Constitution endorses every citizen’s freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions. Article 33 gives the state the responsibility to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens. Article 36 further obligates the state to ensure due representation of minorities in the federal and provincial services. Despite these provisions, religious minorities are hardly faring well in the country.
Moreover, successive governments have remained unable to prevent the deliberate misuse of the blasphemy law to persecute minority Ahmadi, Christian and Hindu communities.
The recent tabling of a resolution to amend the often abused blasphemy law has caused evident outrage amongst religious parties. It remains to be seen if civil society organisations can counter this pressure through their ‘Coalition of Democracy’ which aims to help build support for the amendment process.
Unless the blasphemy law is amended or repealed, wrongdoers will continue to manipulate this law. Laxity is continually shown to cover up blatant forms of prosecution of minorities. Granting bail to five people who were arrested for torching innocent Christians in Gojra is but another example of ineffective prosecution against criminals.
The state and all its institutions, including the judiciary, must become more proactive on this issue. They must take up cases where false accusations are made and punish the culprits accordingly. A Pakistan Penal Code provision (153 A) enables them to do so, whereby perpetrators are liable to fines and imprisonment of up to five years.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2010.