May 29, 2024

The Mayhem of Minorities in Pakistan

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By: Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd), Editor, GSDN

Minorities in Pakistan: source Internet

Pakistan has a diverse population with numerous minority groups, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious and ethnic minorities. These communities face challenges, including discrimination, marginalization, and violence. The government has taken measures to promote social cohesion and address the concerns of minority groups, but there is still much work to be done. It’s important to note that minority communities in Pakistan are not homogeneous and have their unique cultural and linguistic identities. In Pakistan, the plight of minorities is a pressing concern that manifests through various forms of discrimination and mistreatment. This article delves into the multifaceted challenges faced by these communities, who are marginalized not only because of their religious and ethnic identities but also due to the systemic biases entrenched within the society. From the violent repercussions of blasphemy laws to the subtle yet pervasive socio-economic barriers, minorities in Pakistan navigate a landscape riddled with inequality. The article aims to shed light on the harsh realities of minorities in Pakistan, exploring the legal, social, and economic dimensions of discrimination that collectively undermine their fundamental rights and freedoms. As we examine the issues, we also consider the broader implications for Pakistan’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and the urgent need for reforms that ensure equal treatment for all citizens.

Profile of Minorities in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the mosaic of religious diversity tells a tale of struggles and challenges faced by minority communities. Despite comprising only a small fraction of the population, Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and other minorities endure significant hurdles in various facets of life. Statistics reveal a stark reality: Muslims dominate, constituting over 96% of the populace, while Christians and Hindus stand at 1.59% and 1.60%, respectively. These figures become even more poignant when we examine rural and urban divides. In rural areas, minority representation dwindles further, with Christians and Hindus making up a mere fraction of the population. The situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reflects a particularly dire picture, where Muslims overwhelmingly dominate, leaving scant space for religious diversity. Despite these statistics, the contributions and voices of minorities are often marginalized, highlighting the urgent need for inclusive policies and societal attitudes that uphold the rights and dignity of all Pakistanis, regardless of faith.

Evolving threat scenario in Pakistan against minorities

The evolving threat scenario in Pakistan, particularly regarding blasphemy laws, continues to cast a shadow over the nation’s socio-political landscape. The tragic assassinations of Salman Taseer, the liberal Punjab governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a courageous Christian critic of these laws, underscore the perilous climate for those advocating for reform and tolerance. Taseer’s and Bhatti’s murders, just months apart in 2011, sent shockwaves through the country, revealing the deep-seated tensions between progressive voices and conservative elements. Even officials like Assistant Commissioner Jannat Hussain Nekokara faced backlash for supporting minority rights in 2019, highlighting the pervasive intolerance that extends to all levels of society. These incidents not only demonstrate the dangers faced by those challenging the status quo but also the broader implications for Pakistan’s minority communities. As blasphemy laws remain a contentious issue, the evolving threats against advocates for reform perpetuate an environment of fear and division, leaving little room for progress or safety for minority individuals.

Types of discrimination faced by Minorities

Mob violence   In Pakistan, blasphemy laws continue to affect numerous individuals, with 329 persons accused across 180 reported cases. Among them, 247 were Muslims, 65 Ahmadis, 11 Christians, and one Hindu, while the religious affiliation of five accused remained unknown.  Punjab saw the highest number of abuses in 2023, with 179 accused, followed by Sindh with 79, Azad Jammu and Kashmir with 37, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 32, and single cases in Balochistan & Gilgit-Baltistan.

Forced Conversion/Abduction   The incidence of alleged abductions and forced conversions has surged to 136 cases, marking a new peak. Within this alarming figure, 110 Hindu girls were reportedly abducted in Sindh, while 26 Christian girls faced similar fates in Punjab. The majority of these distressing incidents unfolded in Sindh, with a staggering 77% of the victims being minors, under the age of 18. Amarnath Motual, former vice-chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has highlighted a troubling trend, citing that at least 20 Hindu girls are abducted monthly in Pakistan. According to the CSJ report ‘Silence of the Lamb III’, which meticulously documented cases from 2013 to 2020, Hindu girls accounted for 88 (54%) of victims, Christians 72 (44%), Sikhs 1 (0.62%), and Kalash 1 (0.62%). The provincial breakdown reveals that Punjab witnessed 84 (51.85%) cases, Sindh 71 (43.83%), with Federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa each reporting 2 (1.23%) incidents, and Balochistan 1 (0.62%). Additionally, the CSJ data underscores that nearly half of the converted victims were minors. The CSJ, through meticulous examination of mainstream and social media, court orders, and police reports, verified 162 such incidents, uncovering a troubling trend: only 16.67% of victims were above 18, with nearly half being minors. Furthermore, the true ratio of underage victims may be higher, as the exact age of 37% of victims remained undisclosed in the report.

Hate Campaign   The hate campaign against minorities in Pakistan is a pressing issue that has led to violence, discrimination, and fear, impacting the lives of religious minority communities. Despite constitutional provisions allowing the practice of religion, the influence of Islamic doctrines has led to discrimination against religious minorities. The Pakistani state’s struggle to uphold international commitments further exacerbates this situation. Hate speech is prevalent in textbooks, mainstream media, and even within mosque sermons, contributing to a culture of animosity and inciting violent actions against minority groups. Instances of church burnings, the loss of lives, and brutal attacks against religious minorities have shocked the world, showcasing the dangerous effects of hate speech and incitement to violence. In daily life, individuals from religious minority backgrounds may experience heightened anxiety and insecurity due to the pervasive nature of hate speech. The use of derogatory slurs and labels like “kafir” and “wajib-ul-qatal” can lead to feelings of alienation and fear for their safety. Moreover, the distortion of historical facts and events in educational materials can perpetuate stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes against minorities, impacting their sense of identity and belonging in society. An analysis of responses to tweets concerning religious minorities in Pakistan revealed a significant surge in hate speech following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s supportive tweet in February 2020. Approximately 15,000 hate-filled responses were recorded in the week following the tweet.

Multidimensional Prosecution of minorities

Legal Discrimination           Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, despite their intended purpose of protecting religious sentiments, have disproportionately targeted minority communities, exacerbating religious discrimination and persecution. Minority groups, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, and others, have been particularly vulnerable to false accusations of blasphemy, leading to arrests, violence, and even extrajudicial killings. Moreover, the mere accusation of blasphemy can result in societal ostracization, making minorities vulnerable to mob violence and vigilantism. The enforcement of blasphemy laws has created a climate of fear and insecurity among minority communities, impeding their ability to fully participate in society and enjoy their basic rights. Therefore, these laws not only violate principles of equality and justice but also perpetuate systemic discrimination against minorities in Pakistan. Shockingly, a significant portion of the victims were Muslims, with approximately 50% of them belonging to the Shia minority sect. Despite this, the socio-economic impact on religious minorities, especially Christians and Ahmadis, has been substantial, resulting in their social ostracization as highlighted in a report by HRCP.

Social-Economic Discrimination The socio-economic discrimination against minorities in Pakistan remains glaringly evident, perpetuating a cycle of marginalization and inequality. The disparity in literacy rates, as revealed by the 1998 census and further confirmed by the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women in 2017, highlights the systemic obstacles faced by minority communities, with Christians and Hindus lagging significantly behind the national average. The higher infant and child mortality rates among minorities underscore their economic marginalization, exacerbated by limited access to education due to exclusionary curriculum choices and religious discrimination in educational policies. Despite efforts such as the 2% quota for minority admissions at the university level, implementation remains inadequate, particularly due to the absence of affirmative measures at the school level. Furthermore, the failure of federal and provincial governments to approve syllabi for religious education in prisons denies minority prisoners their right to remission, perpetuating discriminatory practices. Additionally, the underrepresentation of minorities in government jobs, coupled with unequal pay and discriminatory hiring practices, further deepens their socio-economic disenfranchisement. Urgent action is needed to address these entrenched inequalities and ensure equal opportunities for all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation.

Political Discrimination   The discrimination against minorities in Pakistan is deeply ingrained within the political structure of the country, perpetuated by various mechanisms and institutions. The Constitution of Pakistan, while ostensibly guaranteeing freedom of religion, also enshrines Islam as the state religion, setting a framework that often marginalizes minority communities. Notably, key political positions such as the President and Prime Minister require adherence to Islam, effectively excluding non-Muslims from the highest offices of the state. This exclusionary policy reinforces a system where minority voices are sidelined in the political sphere, further exacerbated by the implementation of separate electorates. Introduced during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, this system diminishes the voting power of minorities, rendering their voices negligible in the political landscape. The resistance against such discriminatory practices, exemplified by figures like Sudham Chand, has often met with violence and suppression, sending a chilling message to those advocating for minority rights. Additionally, the Council of Islamic Ideology, established by Ayub Khan, serves as a barrier to progressive legislation by wielding its influence to block bills deemed ‘unIslamic,’ further consolidating religious authority over state affairs. This intersection of religion and politics not only undermines the democratic principles espoused by Pakistan’s constitution but also perpetuates systemic discrimination against minorities, denying them their rightful representation and amplifying their vulnerability within society.

Perpetrators of Discrimination       The perpetrators of minority discrimination in Pakistan stem from a complex interplay of societal, cultural, political and judicial factors. At the forefront are extremist groups and individuals who propagate intolerant ideologies, often under the guise of religious or nationalist fervour. These groups, such as the Taliban, Al-Qaida, and other militant factions, target minorities through violence, intimidation, and coercion, seeking to enforce their narrow interpretation of Islam and maintain power and control.  

Beyond extremist organizations, elements within the political establishment and bureaucracy have also been complicit in perpetuating discrimination against minorities. Politicians and officials who espouse divisive rhetoric or fail to address systemic inequalities contribute to an environment where minority rights are routinely disregarded.

Societal prejudices and biases against minorities are deeply entrenched, perpetuating discrimination in everyday interactions and opportunities. Discriminatory practices in education, employment, and housing further marginalize minority groups, limiting their access to socio-economic advancement and perpetuating cycles of inequality.

In Pakistan, the judiciary has played a significant role in perpetuating discrimination against minority communities, particularly through the enforcement of blasphemy laws and other discriminatory statutes. Despite the principles of justice and equality enshrined in the constitution, the judiciary has often failed to protect the rights of religious minorities, instead succumbing to pressure from extremist groups and conservative elements within society. Minority individuals often face bias and prejudice in both civil and criminal proceedings, with their testimonies and rights afforded lesser weight compared to those of the majority population. This systemic discrimination perpetuates a cycle of marginalization and oppression, further entrenching the unequal treatment of minorities within society. While there have been some efforts to address these issues, such as calls for judicial reforms and greater protection of minority rights, progress has been slow and often met with resistance from conservative quarters.

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