Pakistan: Not The Country The Founding Father Envisaged
August 11 is a historic day that marks the celebration of Minorities’ Day in Pakistan. It was on this date that the father of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in a speech at the first Legislative Assembly of the country on 11 August 1947, i.e. three days before the official announcement of the creation of Pakistan, proclaimed all minorities as equal citizens of the new nation. The Government of Pakistan subsequently declared August 11 as “Minorities Day”. The day got an official reorganization in 2009 due to the efforts of former minister of Pakistan Minority Affairs Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, who was murdered on 2 March 2011 by the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Islamabad.
At the time of its formation, the rhetoric around Pakistan included rights to freedom of religion. The forefathers of the State envisaged a free state where each minority group would have the right to profess their beliefs freely, without the fear of being persecuted. Unfortunately, soon after its creation, the political religious parties, purporting to be guardians of Islam, hijacked the State of Pakistan. And, today, intolerance towards pluralism and inter-faith harmony has seeped into the general populace and the apparatus of the state.
Attacks on minorities and forced conversions are a common occurrence resulting in mass exodus of the minorities, as in the case of Hindu minorities of Sindh. The Constitution and other laws and policies officially restrict religious freedom. The government’s limited capacity and will to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of extremist attacks against religious minorities is promoting further intolerance, allowing impunity for those who take the law into their own hand.
Each year there have been several reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, a trend that is unfortunately increasing. Violent extremists in the country have demanded that all citizens follow their authoritarian interpretation of Islam and threatened brutal consequences if anyone chooses not to abide.
A total of 67 years after its inception, Pakistan is spiraling into chaos and confusion as to the purpose of its creation, even though founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah had clearly identified the freedom to practice religion as the cornerstone of a free and democratic society. He had laid down the foundations of a modern, tolerant, and progressive Pakistan in which everyone would have equal rights, regardless of creed, caste and gender.
In his famous speech on 11 August 1947 Mr. Jinnah proclaimed:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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.”
He further stated that progress, as a nation, is not possible unless the populace works as one unit and does not discriminate amongst itself:
“If you work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be on end to the progress you will make. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”
In all modern democratic states, the civil rights of citizens are recognized in the constitutions as fundamental rights as they ensure that the subjects are able to lead an honorable life without fear of being persecuted or discriminated on the basis of caste, creed, color, religious belief, or ethnicity.
According to Article 22 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which provides safeguards, as regards to educational institutions in respect of religion, no educational institution can force an individual to receive religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony other than his or her own. According to Article 26 and 27 of the Constitution, there shall be no discrimination in terms of access to public places and services on the basis of religion. Despite the constitutional guarantees, the State does little to implement the same in letter or spirit to ensure safety and security of its minority communities.
The Cairo Declaration for Human Rights, to which Pakistan is also a signatory, envisages an egalitarian society free from bias and discrimination on the basis of religion. Article 1, 10, and 18 of the Declaration states that, “All human beings are Allah’s subjects, and the most loved by Him are those who are most beneficial to His subjects, and no one has superiority over another except on the basis of piety and good deeds.” The Declaration’s articles explicitly prohibit religious prejudice and encourage establishment of a pluralistic society.
The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognizes and protects the right to freedom of religious belief under Article 18. The right is recognized simultaneously as an individual well as a collective right. The fundamental character of these freedoms is that they cannot be derogated from, even in times of public emergency, as is explicitly stated in Article 4.2 of the Covenant. Therefore, the state cannot, under any circumstances whatsoever, take away the right. In fact, Article 18 has made it incumbent on the state to enact laws to protect the interest of the minority.
However, due to the rampant persecution of minorities in Pakistan, as many as 4,000 Pakistani Christians, according to the official United Nations’ figures, are now believed to be living “under the radar” in Thailand, fending off arrest by the Thai police for illegal entry, as they cling to the hope of making it through the grueling UN refugee resettlement process.
In a 2014 report, the Minority Rights Group International identified Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for religious minorities. According to statistics from Human Rights Watch, militant extremists killed more than 850 Shia Hazaras in 2012 & 2013. Hundreds more have been killed since then.
Since 1990, at least 60 people have been murdered after having been accused of blasphemy. At present, 17 people convicted of blasphemy are on death row; 19 others are serving life sentences.
Courtesy The US Commission on International Religious Freedom
In March 2014, a Lahore court sentenced Sawan Masih to death for blasphemy after he was accused of making derogatory statements regarding the Prophet Muhammad. In April 2013, those allegations prompted a 3,000-strong mob to attack a Christian residential community in Lahore and torch hundreds of houses. Police arrested Masih, but failed to otherwise intervene.
While In April 2014, a court in Toba Tek Singh sentenced to death a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, for allegedly sending “blasphemous” text messages. In November, a mob beat to death a Christian couple after they allegedly committed blasphemy by burning pages of a Quran. Their bodies were later burned in the kiln of the factory in which they worked.
Last year, a mob in Gujranwala burned down houses of the Ahmadi community killing three people and injuring eight others over alleged blasphemy. The provisions of Pakistan’s penal code, which perpetuate discrimination against the Ahmadis, remain unchanged: the code explicitly prohibits Ahmadis from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim”; declaring or propagating their faith publicly; building mosques or referring to them as such; or making public calls to prayer.
The failure of Pakistani authorities to curb the spread of negative stereotypes and hate speech is directly affecting minoritie’s representation. This in turn is reinforcing inequalities in employment, service access and other areas. The government’s ability to ensure the security of all its citizens irrespective of their faith is not only a test of its willingness to preserve its rich social diversity, but will also be a major determinant of Pakistan’s future stability. Addressing the root drivers of discrimination, however, will require the active engagement of law enforcement agencies, civil society organizations, media representatives, religious leaders and, most importantly, community members themselves to achieve lasting change in the country.
The impunity afforded those who enforce radical Islamic ideologies only serves to encourage the spread of the prejudices driving the rampant violence and religious extremism consuming Pakistan today. Minorities Day is an opportunity that reminds to reaffirm solidarity for the betterment of humanity and for a prosperous Pakistan. Pakistan’s government should ensure the security of the country’s religious minorities from judicial injustice and attacks by militants. The state must wake up to the fact that a fractured society cannot prosper. A state that is unjust and biased against its marginalized and vulnerable shall forever remain divided.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which she might be associated.