Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Daily Times Editorial Aug 13, 2015
Minorities’ plight On Pakistan Minorities Day, the date chosen to commemorate the day Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah delivered his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, both the National Assembly and Senate passed resolutions to pay tribute to the members of the minority communities who sacrificed their lives in the war against terrorism and to celebrate their contributions in various fields of life. The issues raised in both houses regarding the minorities included forced conversions and forced marriages (often together), the misuse of the blasphemy laws, and passing the Hindu Marriage Act according to the findings of the Supreme Court. Since the Act only relates to the Islamabad Capital Territory, demands were voiced for extending it to the provinces, particularly Sindh, where the bulk of Pakistan’s Hindus reside. Speeches during the discussion on the minorities’ issue delineated the pattern of discrimination against members of faiths other than Islam, starting from schools and going all the way up to parliament. School curricula and teaching either ignore minorities or portray them in a derogatory way. This is particularly true of Hindus and Christians. Others underlined the difficulties members of the minorities face in even utilising their five percent quota of government jobs. Parliamentarians called for the better implementation of the quota and its extension to the educational field and other sectors. Outside parliament, the issue of flawed representation of the minorities under the present electoral system has been debated increasingly of late, whereby minority members are elected at the will and whim of the parties in any Assembly on reserved seats. This deprives them, it is argued, of the right to directly elect their representatives, thereby making them answerable to their constituents, something missing from the present indirect system of election by the members of each Assembly. The country’s flawed blasphemy laws in particular have been very harsh on the minorities, and even dissident Muslims. Two prominent victims of these laws have been Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, both belonging to the PPP. It was Shahbaz Bhatti's initiative to declare August 11 National Minorities Day and PPP’s Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah appreciated the PML-N government’s continuing the tradition. Over the years, the minority Shia, Christian, Ahmedi, Hindu communities and even Muslims critical of the blasphemy laws or falling foul of them for dubious reasons have been persecuted (often to death). Parliament echoed on the day with demands that Mr Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947, in which he stated unequivocally: “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state” be included in school curricula and taught to every child so that the founder father’s vision of a tolerant society and religion-neutral state may be inculcated. How far we have strayed from Mr Jinnah’s vision does not need great explication. Starting with General Zia’s manipulation of religion for political purposes, state and society have become increasingly polarised, intolerant and violent on the basis of the ‘othering’ of faiths other than mainstream Sunni Islam. The repeated abuse of the blasphemy laws for purposes as far removed from religion as it is possible to imagine has, despite the failure of attempts to repeal or reform the laws, finally begun to percolate into the consciousness of parliament’s members. There is therefore talk of bringing in safeguards against false accusation of blasphemy by punishing such motivated false accusers as severely as the law enjoins for blasphemy (death). Whether the parliamentarians will succeed this time when their nerve gave out last time after Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s murders remains to be seen. But there is no getting away from the urgent need to recast Pakistan’s state and society away from one bogged down in confessionalism and towards the kind of open, democratic and tolerant country Mr Jinnah envisaged, and in which endeavour we have failed him miserably so far.