Raja Qaiser Ahmed
The space for minorities in Pakistan and particularly in South Punjab and Sindh is shrinking. They are under the discriminatory treatment at large. The social abyss in which minorities are entrenched is beyond miserable. The legal and the constitutional guarantees are proved ineffective in ensuring their sovereign communitarian existence.
The social fabric of South Punjab is under severe degeneration. Over the years this region has observed a marked shift from a pluralist society to a parochial narrow minded polity with increased intolerance and exclusion of minorities from the mainstream.
The menace of radicalization and violent extremism stemming out from this region is defining the broader contours of minorities’ marginalization in Pakistan. The forceful conversions and the persecution of minorities are the vindication of this phenomenon.
The striking factor is the structural discrimination which dictates the social and religious priorities of minorities. The politico-religious nexus in this region is furthering the mess. The underrepresentation of minorities in the political mainstream is worsening the state of affairs.
Minorities lack the appropriate forums to voice out this quagmire emphatically. The constitutional and legal provisions are impinging catastrophic bearings upon minorities. For instance, the Article 295C in the constitution of Pakistan is an impending threat to minorities which is largely used as a tool to victimize them.
The politics of discrimination in South Punjab is relatively a new phenomenon that cannot be understood completely in religious terms. The sociopolitical imperatives have revamped the basic fabric of the society. The religious indoctrination with illiteracy at large is creating extremes.
The underdeveloped and underserviced areas with negligible infrastructural development and scanty economic opportunities have deteriorated the law and order. This has given a headway to the crime and terror syndicates to operate with their skewed vision resultantly dwindling the space and existence for minorities. The banned outfits with a defined agenda of the persecution of minorities have also become rife.
The social fabric of Pakistan has been drastically revamped during Zia’s rule that has polarized the society at the name of ideological differences and intensified the drive for forced Islamization. This phenomenon resulted into a collective mindset of intolerance that is making life impossible for minorities in Pakistan.
All this degenerative pattern of rule is benefitting the venial elements in the society. The applied manifestation of this phenomenon can be traced in the kidnaps for ransom and the intimidation of minorities at large.
The South Punjab’s polity with its feudal outlook and traditional outfit offers the best portrayal of majoritarianism whose victims are primarily Hindus and Christians. Minorities are discriminated in every walk of life.
They are denied admissions in school. In schools, they are forced to study Islamic studies. They are not given identity cards. They cannot register marriages. Their lands are grabbed by the land grabbers and criminals.
They are kidnapped and their women are forcefully converted to Islam. The job quota for minorities is not appropriately followed. They are only considered for disgusting jobs. The five percent quota for the minorities is either not observed or is manipulated. Minorities are mistreated and abused. The state’s commitment to minorities in ensuring their dignified and equal status is not materialized.
The constitution of Pakistan gives complete religious freedom to minorities. The Jinnah’s first speech also explicitly mentioned that minorities would be given equal rights in Pakistan and no discrimination at the name of faith shall take place.
The white color in Pakistani flag also is a symbol of minorities. Over the years state has miserably failed in ensuring this resolve and the persecution and discrimination of minorities continue to exist. Very recently the Sindh assembly passed a bill banning the change of religion to shelter primarily Hindu population from forced conversions albeit this law is still far away from implementation. The onslaught of religious political parties and conservative outfits on this matter speaks volume the sincerity of the majority towards the betterment and welfare of minorities in Pakistan.
The holy places of the minorities are also not save. This widespread terrorization of minorities have resulted in a stark decline in their population. Due to religious persecution at large Hindus are leaving for India. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan data, around 1,000 Hindu families fled to India in 2013.
In May 2014, a member of parliament and a leader of minorities Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, stated in the National Assembly of Pakistan that around 5,000 Hindus are migrating from Pakistan to India every year.
Minorities must be given their due space and role. They should be considered equal citizens. They should be given the status which is promised by the constitution of Pakistan. The role of the state and political elite is highly significant in this regard. Minorities must be allowed to have complete religious freedom, entitlement of full rights and their persecution needs to end.
About Author: Raja Qaiser Ahmed is a lecturer in the School of Politics and IR, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are solely of the writer.