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March 27, 2011

Page: 32/36

Home > 2011 Issues > March 27, 2011

No place for minorities in Pakistan
From Rajan Khanna in Mumbai

The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, has posed a few questions for the world community. The persecution of minorities in that country is unabated and calls for immediate intervention from the world powers. A couple of months ago, Salman Taseer, governor of the Pakistani Punjab State was also murdered - for his liberal views against the stringent blasphemy law - in broad daylight. More unfortunate aspect of Salman’s murder is: his bodyguard, who killed him, is showered with flower petals by the onlookers, whenever he is brought to the court for hearings.

The draconian blasphemy law has been invariably being used to suppress and blackmail the minorities in Pakistan. Shahbaz Bhatti, who was a Christian and one of the most vocal critics of the said law, had been receiving threats from the ultras for quite some time but valiantly kept on defying the diktats of the extremists; but eventually, he had to pay the price of his fighting for the rights of the minorities of his country, with his life.

The suppression of minorities in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon; it started immediately after the state of Pakistan was created. Although, the creator of that country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared in the first session of the Constituent Assembly that he wanted the country to become a secular state, yet, the successive military and civilian regimes of that country could not give secular character to the political system.

Hindus in the states of Sindh and Balochistan are incessantly being persecuted and their lives, property and dignity are constantly threatened by the zealots. The state of Sindh, in the aftermath of the partition of the country, used to have a sizeable population of Hindus, but due to the religious persecution, the community has been reduced to very small numbers in the said state; most of it has been migrating either to India or has been forcibly converted. Every now and then, the community faces the attacks of the religious bigots and lives under the constant threat of terror. Recently, a group of Hindus coming back from the famous historical shrine of Hinglaj Devi in Balochistan, was waylaid and murdered. The unfortunate fact is, the authorities remain mute spectators and as the reports trickle in, many a times tacitly support the attacks on the community.

The intolerance of the Pakistani state is not restricted to the minorities belonging to the other faiths only; even the Ahamadiyas - actually a sect belonging to the majority community of Pakistan - are not allowed to live in peace and are constantly being harassed. Their story of woes started with General Zia ul Haq - the erstwhile military dictator of Pakistan - declaring them non-Muslims, in the decade of seventies. Intermittent attacks by the armed extremist groups on the hapless Ahamadiyas keep on taking place in that country and the successive governments have miserably failed in providing any protection to the said community.

The ugly face of the religious persecution was seen again in the Ourkazai tribal agency of the NWFP of Pakistan. The members of the Sikh community were issued notices to pay Zaziya or face death by the Talibani militia. Although, the threats were coming thick and large for quite some time, yet, the government did nothing to save the lives and the property of those Sikh masses, who opted to stay back - at the soil of their birth and their forefathers - in the aftermath of the partition of the country. Many innocent Sikh lives were taken by the religious zealots and the rest of Pakistan and the world community kept on watching the massacre as mute spectators.

The Christian minority, which is largely scattered in the Punjab province of Pakistan, is on the receiving end of the constant attacks by the extremist groups. Whenever any incident which is considered to be provocative - by the fundamentalists of Pakistan - occurs in any western country, the Churches and the houses of the Christian minority become targets of the radical forces.

Late Shahbaz Bhatti, who was a vociferous critic of some of the provisions of the Blasphemy law, was a dominant voice of the Christian community of Pakistan; his assassination should not only be condemned unequivocally by the world leaders, pressure should be brought on the Pakistani regime to protect the lives, property, dignity and the institutions of various minorities living in that country.

The complicity of the government of Pakistan and its agencies like ISI - in attacks on the minorities - is glaringly evident, therefore, trade embargoes against the state which has been sponsoring terrorism from the very first day of its creation, should be brought and the UN should depute the emissaries of UNHRC in Pakistan to safeguard the lives and the properties of the terrorised minorities.

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