Growing Religious Intolerance – Is it our future?

29-07-2014

Whilst having my usual cup of tea in the morning, a breaking news item on TV caught my attention. Five Hindu children, belonging to one of the largest religious minority groups in Pakistan, were kidnapped while coming back from school. The media reported that their father was a well-known Hindu leader and journalist in Dera AllahYar Khan. The family of the victims was assured by the police that a thorough investigation would be conducted. This kidnapping case reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago with a Sikh student about the alleged burning of the Sikh religious text, Granth, in the Sindh Province. The tension among Sikh minority community has been mounting due to failure by the Pakistani government to prevent such incidents.

Coincidentally on the same day, 28th May, I was going to be speaking at a debate organized by Coalition for the Rights of Minorities (CRM). The debate brought together minority leaders representing Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Bahai communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the advisor to Chief Minister of KPK for minorities, Mr. Soran Singh.

During the debate, members of CRM discussed minority issues prevailing in the province including the increase of religious intolerance towards minorities over the last two decades. I shared my concerns regarding the atmosphere of fear, insecurity and distress surrounding the minority communities.

Each community member raised their concerns about these kinds of violations they are subjected to, on a day-to-day basis. Participants voiced their concerns about the hate material that has been published in the curriculum over the years, the lack of employment, the absence of minority rights, the targeting of places of worship or minorities and many more. This debate gave me an insight into the daily human rights violations that occur in Pakistan, especially towards minorities who deserve equal rights to Pakistan’s religious and ethnic majority groups.

The event was aimed at promoting the culture of different religious communities that live or have lived in Pakistan, so that people, particularly younger generations should have an awareness and understanding of different religions. A recommendation was put forward by the MPA Dr. Soran Singh who suggested a collective celebration on International Peace Day which is celebrated globally on September 2013. The event  is to promote a message of tolerance and peace, which is in keeping with the message of International Peace Day.

The outcome of the debate gave me a sense of relief as the minority communities in the KPK showed a commitment to work together to highlight the issues faced by minorities and make their voice heard by the government, media and civil society.

In the end we have to ask ourselves, how can it be acceptable for a Hindu to be punished and mistreated for practicing his or her religion? Why should a Sikh feel constantly insecure for being a Sikh? The hatred that grew was caused by differences of religion and further separated religious minority communities.  A little effort can revive a situation of intercommunal love and harmony. Why can’t we believe in the simplicity of humanity and equality? I believe the day will come and our future will be prosperous and surrounded by love and respect for all.

Shagufta Khalique is a human rights activist from Peace Education and Development Foundation (PEAD), Pakistan.

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Ahmedi Pakistani community has boycotted elections for 30 years.