Minorities’ rights in Pakistan
Muhammad Jamil


The members of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday endorsed the move to criminalise forced religious conversions and to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law except Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar of JUI-F, who argued that existing laws already were adequate and it was a matter of implementing them. During a briefing by the National Commission for Minorities to the committee on forced marriages in Hindu community and new proposals by the Ministry of Human Rights on preventing misuse of the blasphemy law, Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan of PPP forcefully defended the rights of non-Muslim citizens, stating that in the eyes of law, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and other citizens have equal rights. “Services rendered by non-Muslims for Pakistan are significant and their rights must be ensured in the law,” he added.

PML-N MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani told them how the Hindu community suffered religious intolerance and acts of violence; and is pressurised to accept Islam, with doors of justice closed to the victims. Senator Sehar Kamran of PPP shared her sentiment with him. It has to be mentioned that Muslims have also suffered at the hands of extremists and more than 45000 Muslims have been martyred since the joining the war on terror. Anyhow, in 2010 a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sherry Rehman had introduced a private bill to amend the blasphemy law. Her bill sought to change procedures of religious offences so that they would be reported to a higher police official and the cases heard directly by the higher courts. The bill was sent to a parliamentary committee for vetting, but was withdrawn in February 2011 under pressure from religious parties and some opposition political groups.
During the 1980s the blasphemy laws were enacted expanded through amendments. In 1980, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was made an offence, carrying a maximum punishment of three years in jail. In 1982, another clause prescribed life imprisonment for willful desecration of the Qur’an. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the penalty recommended was death, or imprisonment for life. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has been documenting blasphemy cases for decades, which stated that Muslims constituted the majority of those booked under these laws. The vast majority of these cases were lodged for desecration of the Qur’an - far fewer for blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH). However, critics say that the laws are unfairly applied, and often are used to settle personal scores.
Last month, the Supreme Court had called for improving the blasphemy law in order to provide safeguards against its misuse by leveling false allegations. In this regard, it needs to be remembered that blasphemy law promulgated in Pakistan not only protects Islam but all other religions also. It makes any act a punishable offense, which is intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. But as it is an accepted rule that the use of anything makes it good or bad, so is the case with this law. Unfortunately, most of the blasphemy cases are just fabricated and the accusers go scot-free. Justice requires that the blasphemy law should include a clause dealing with the fabricated blasphemy cases strictly. It needs to be understood that the accuser in blasphemy cases who later is found guilty deserves more punishment than the accused.
Despite having completed more than 68 years of its existence, we still have to listen to the debate as to the purpose for which Pakistan was created. As envisioned by the Quaid and explained in his speech to the constituent assembly on 11th August 1947, Pakistan was to be a modern welfare state, where a free and independent people would enjoy equal rights without discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, ethnicity or gender. He wished to consider minorities as Pakistani citizens with equal rights and not to be treated the way Hindus treated the Muslims. Since Narendra Modi has assumed the office of Prime Minister of India, all minorities especially Muslims are the target of the Shiv Sena and other Hindu fanatical and extremist organizations. Of course, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits have suffered in equal measure in the past and their places of worship were destroyed.
In order to divert attention from the plight of minorities in India, BJP leaders have started propaganda campaign against Pakistan that minorities are not given their due rights and they are not safe; which is travesty of the truth. Islam enjoins upon the Muslims to respect the Minorities and never harm their places of worship; let them perform their rituals and let them lead their life according to their faith. As regards status of minorities in Pakistan, there are scores of people from the minority communities who held high posts in the government and civil administration. It has to be mentioned that a Christian, Justice A.R. Cornelious was the fourth Chief Justice of Pakistan. Then we had Justice Bhagwan Das - a Hindu. He had been a Supreme Court Judge since February 2000 for over a decade, and became acting CJP during judicial crisis in Pakistan in 2007.
Earlier, he performed his duties as acting chief justice of Pakistan when then CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry went on foreign tours in 2005 and 2006. He also worked as the chairman of Federal Public Service Commission of Pakistan. Many Christians have rendered meritorious services in Pakistan Air Force. Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry (Sitara-e-Jurat) was a Pakistani academic, human rights activist, and veteran fighter pilot. As a Flight Lieutenant, he fought in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, and later as a Squadron Leader in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Another Christian, Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat (Sitara-e-Jurat) was a Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat for his devotion to duty and valour. There are many others who also contributed to defence of the motherland; however paucity of space does not allow to produce all the names.