The recent spate of forced conversions, killings and abductions for ransom of non-Muslims living in Pakistan is an open question mark to the democratic governance and establishment of the country.
“Unless we protect and strengthen the weak, we will not be able to exercise the true power of democracy,” said Nazish Brohi, an independent research professional and a human rights activist.
Inaccessibility to appropriate health facilities, education and other essentials of life have transformed many Pakistanis into ‘weaker beings’, with non-Muslim factions topping the list. It is consequential to understand that protection of the suppressed and marginalised population of Pakistan indeed, is the only way to prove our stance towards a secular country.
In a country such as Pakistan, where male section of the society is predominantly overpowering, women generally face an ‘unequal’ share of hatred and discrimination.
A case of double jeopardy
Pakistani women are more susceptible to violence and other violations of human and civil rights however non-Muslim women are subjected to more discriminated behaviour on different stages and level which increase the magnitude of their ordeal.
“A vast population of Pakistani women suffer from effects of double jeopardy as they are discriminated because of multiple reasons,” said Brohi.
“Women in general are discriminated by men of their own families because they are considered to be carrying the responsibility of safeguarding their honour. Women are then subjected to discrimination because of the fact that they profess other faiths. And then the never-ending discrimination goes on,” added Brohi.
According to a report published by National commission for Justice and Peace, 74 per cent of minority women living in Pakistan faced sexual harassment during 2010 and 2011, respectively, whereas 43 per cent complained about facing religious discrimination at workplaces, educational institutions and neighbourhoods.
Moreover the report also proved that 68.4 per cent of non-Muslim women have no political participation which according to Brohi evidently signifies the mistrust of minority women in the political system primarily because it does not offer significant assistance to them.
With forced conversions and kidnappings for ransom on the rise, many non-Muslims have fled Pakistan to seek refuge abroad.
Mangla Sharma, Chairperson of Pak-Hindu Welfare association said, “forced conversions and blasphemy laws affect non-Muslims of Pakistan at every level. In fact it will not be unwise to say that legislation and laws are manipulated to favour the majority,”
“Proper committees, representing people from minority, civil and judicial groups, should be established to assess various cases pertaining to blasphemy law and forced conversion,” added Sharma.
Sharma is of the view that judiciary does not counter-question the ‘newly converted’ people or ask them about Islam in detail which is why most of the ‘brainwashed’ girls are then sent to shelters.
According to Sharma ‘victims’ of forced conversions should be provided counselling opportunities so that it can be evaluated if the conversion was their personal choice or is external influence involved.
“Laws are for people and they should not serve religions,” commented Sharma.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Catholic Archdiocese Karachi said, “Most of the people we live with are unaware of the problems we are facing as other religious groups which is why it is very important to reach out to the masses and share our plight with them,”
“Unless our society admits the issues pertaining to women abductions and forced conversions, we will not be able to address them so it is essential to ‘activate’ the silent majority,” added Archbishop Coutts.
Saleem Khurshid Khokhar, Member Provincial Assembly Sindh, and Chairman, Standing Committee on Minorities Affairs, Sindh said, “do not misjudge our intentions because we do not oppose conversions; however we demand to end the conversions which are carried out under the influence of guns and threats.”
Know your rights
Ernestine Christaline Pinto, a practicing advocate said, “there are two major shortcomings in our group namely, lack of awareness and education,”
“It is important to identify collective issues and then formulate groups to voice them. Unless we work united towards our mutual cause we will remain unable to exercise our rights,” added Pinto.
According to Justice (R) Majida Razvi 80 per cent of the women in Pakistan are marginalised because they do not have complete access to education, justice and other primary resources whereas 66 per cent of the women are not given the right to choose their own spouse.
“This has more to do with our cultural values and traditions and we see this happening everywhere regardless of women’s religious orientations,” said Razvi.
“Discrimination is carried out against all Pakistani women and the primary reason why this happens is because a major chunk of our women are unaware of their rights and privileges,” added Razvi.
Razvi is of the view that fighting for justice is perhaps the only solution to end the injustices carried out against minority women of Pakistan.
“The constitution of Pakistan discriminates us as women however the constitution also empowers us by clearly outlining our rights and unless we fully understand them, our success to demand justice from the system will remain incomplete,” added Razvi.
Teaching tolerance through curriculum
In order to nurture and spread the ideology of coexistence, it is important to educate the youth of Pakistan.
“Tolerance is almost nonexistent because our curriculum is designed in a way which encourages young minds to harbour animosity towards other religions,” said Sharma.
According to Sharma, Muslims of Pakistan do not consider the rights of non-Muslims and treat them as third-grade citizens of the country.
Khokhar is of the opinion that Christians, Hindus, Parsis and students professing other religions should be given the liberty to study their respective religions in schools and colleges.
“We have requested the Punjab assembly to change the curriculum and introduce other religious books in the academia to ensure religious equality,” added Khokhar.
The author is a reporter at Dawn.com.