The National Minorities Day: a mere formality?

By Kaleem Dean

The National Minorities’ Day is being observed on August 11 in Pakistan to reiterate determination to secure fundamental rights of minorities of Pakistan. In 2009, 11th August was designated as the minorities’ day by the then PPP government. The efforts of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian minister of minorities who was shot dead in 2011 by fundamentalists, were the leading spirit behind this decision. His objective was to get reassurance from government for fair treatment of minorities in the light of the famous speech of the founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

On August 11, 1947, Jinnah said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of 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.” Indeed, this was the beacon that inspired Bhatti to convince the PPP hierarchy to announce August 11 as the day of minorities. While declaring August 11 as the National Minorities Day, Asif Ali Zardari, the then president of Pakistan said: “August 11 has a special significance in the national calendar. It was on this day in 1947 when the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his historic speech to the members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, had laid down the foundation of a modern, tolerant and progressive Pakistan in which everyone will have equal rights regardless of creed, caste, and gender.”

Zardari added, “The Minorities Day is an opportunity that reminds us to reaffirm solidarity for the betterment of humanity and for a prosperous Pakistan.” This statement by the president in 2009 was indeed an encouraging one for minorities discriminated in the country since 1947. Many minority leaders and thinkers started believing that after the recognition of a minorities’ day in Pakistan, the situation would be better.

On August 11, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: “On commemorating the Minorities Day I wish to reiterate the unflinching resolve of my government to protect the rights of minorities living in Pakistan without consideration of fear or favour. I have always stood by the principle of furthering minority causes in Pakistan with a view to ensure interfaith national harmony. My government is very conscious of the views expressed by the Father of the Nation in this respect, which very emphatically spell out the mode of mutual coexistence for all peoples living in the length and breadth of Pakistan. Emulating the Quaid’s vision in letter and spirit the government of Pakistan observes August 11 each year as the Minorities Day to reaffirm our commitment to all our minority fellow citizens. I am sure that our minorities will continue to play their respective role in national development. I wish them all the best in their future endeavours.”

The views expressed in 2009 by the then president of Pakistan are not different from last year’s message of the prime minister of Pakistan on the occasion of the National Minorities’ Day. The message was almost the same: reassurance and reaffirmation to safeguard rights of minorities. Now let us see some unfortunate incidents that happened against minorities between 2009 and 2015.

In 2009, militants grabbed homes and shops of 35 Sikh families in the Orakzai Agency in FATA. In May 2011, two Ahmadi mosques were attacked, and more than 70 people were killed. In 2013 in Peshawar, the All Saints Church bombing killed 80 innocent Christians, injuring hundreds. In 2015, suicide bombers in a church in Youhanabad claimed 15 lives, and injured 70. In April 2016, the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park carnage was another example of the brutal treatment of minorities in Pakistan.

Reportedly, more than 1,000 girls and women of minority faiths are forcibly abducted and converted to Islam every year. Incidents of of persecution are a frequent occurrence, most of which remain unnoticed and unreported. Minorities are not free to elect their representatives in national and provincial parliaments. Nominated/selected minority members are not popular among masses. A kind of social apartheid is prevailing in a highly polarised society. Reaffirmation of safeguarding minorities’ rights cannot be ensured until and unless a strong narrative is adopted to protect an integral part of society. Minorities play their vibrant and exclusive role in the development of the country. Their loyalty cannot be questioned. It is a common phenomenon that deprivation and frustration compel youngsters to get involved in terrorism, but minorities despite living in abysmal conditions remain loyal and dedicated citizens of the state. The sad state of minorities is not only felt in Pakistan but reports in international media also comment on maltreatment of minorities in Pakistan.

Celebrating the minorities’ day has become a mere formality, and that is not what Shahbaz Bhatti envisioned. Practical steps are required to be taken: right to elect members and representatives; five percent recruitment quota for minorities; practical provision of scholarships to minority students; fair legislation to amend the blasphemy laws; unbiased promotions of minority officers in bureaucracy, judiciary, and establishment; protection measures for worship places of minorities; and equal rights in an open society.

This year too, Federal Minister for Human Rights Kamran Michael has announced the National Athletics Festival for minorities. The objectives of this programme have not been made clear by the said ministry, but it would be a good idea to have such programmes regularly organized on a national level to discuss the challenges faced by minorities. Recommendations should be sent to government for bringing a real change in the lives of downtrodden sections of society. Minorities are anticipating another statement from the office of the prime minister, which would have another reassurance of fair treatment of minorities. What real effect would that have on the harsh reality of the plight of minorities? For national development, all sections of society should be treated equally. By ignoring a small but important section, the dream of a prosperous Pakistan may not be materialised.

The writer can be reached at Kaleem.dean@mail.com

[Courtesy: Daily Times]

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