Minority rights: Demands for greater protection, tolerance made

24-11-2013

ISLAMABAD: After meticulous consultation with members of various groups, the Peace and Development Foundation (PDF) presented a charter of demands for the protection of minorities in a press conference here on Saturday.

The 12-point charter was met with varied levels of cynicism and animosity by the sizeable number of journalists in attendance, reinforcing the disarming narrative of intolerance towards non-Muslim Pakistanis in presenting a largely simplified view of the conditions of religious minorities, long-ostracised within Pakistani society.

Overall, the conference served to identify issues closest to the Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities.

"Instead of moving forward, we are clinging to attitudes that inculcate a sense of discord between our communities," expressed Romana Bashir, Executive Director (ED) of PDF.

According to her, even the constitution engenders a sense of exclusion from top-ranking positions for the country's minorities despite their desire to positively influence the nation's development and progress.

The charter calls for overhauling textbooks that presently tend to overlook the sensitivity of non-Muslim students caused by the excluded mention of historical roles played by religious minorities in Pakistan's progressive narrative at large.

"The absence of such facts tends to ingrain dogmatic attitudes within students who are at a malleable state in their lives," Bashir said while urging the government to revisit such material and to inculcate a sense of harmony and tolerance within impressionable pupils. In this regard, another clause of the charter called for an impartial stance against the established provision of 20 extra marks granted to applicants for rote memorisation of the Quran.

"While it is an admirable feat and one that should be recognised within the rare percentage of students who are Hafiz-e-Quran, such appreciation should also extend to students of other faiths who have attained a certain level of religious education," shared Anjum Paul, a professor of political science and a member of the panel at the conference.

An additional position in the charter invoked the discrimination faced by females from minority communities who are rarely represented in the 60 National Assembly seats reserved for women. The PDF head also related that Christians and Hindus doing menial jobs have been stigmatised in the name of their faces without circumstantial understanding.

Under the charter, all minorities should be included in decision-making though, according to her, representatives of minority groups who remain obliged to the parties that have favoured their position chose reticence in the devising of the 18th Amendment.

In this spirit, the panel urged that minority wings be removed from political parties and greater lobbying on the latter should result on the fulfilment of minority-related promises during electoral campaigns.

Answering a question about the lack of a census revealing the population figures of minorities in Pakistan, Bashir termed it one of the reasons why reserved seats for minorities remained unchanged despite demographic changes.

"We don't want to be a state within a state," said Haroon Jay Paul, vice chancellor of the Qaumi Aman Committee in Punjab.

Source: Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2013.

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