Keeping its tradition of observing the National Minorities’ Day annually, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) organized an inclusive convention in Lahore, urging all political parties to deliver on their pledges made in the party manifestos to the minorities’ rights.
Presenting nine-point demands to the federal and provincial governments, the day-long gathering call the attention of all stakeholders to the human rights challenges such as intolerance, extremism, and discrimination. In connection with National Minorities’ Day, the convention was joined by various political parties, and representatives of civil society organizations.
Speaking on the occasion, Centre for Social Justice Executive Director Peter Jacob said that Quaid-e-Azam’s speech of August 11, his fourteen points of 1929, the Lahore resolution of 1940, and the Liaquat-Nehru pact of 1950 were documents of the utmost importance as they contribute to addressing deprivations, ensuring equality of rights and establishing a just system.
He said that the National Assembly has passed a National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023, without addressing its gaps, the onus was on the Senate to introduce amendments in the bill to make the prospective minority rights body truly functional, and effective, independent, autonomous, and resourceful institution.
Human rights activist Advocate Hina Jilani said that Pakistan came into being for the protection of minorities’ rights, and issues faced by minorities need to be addressed by the state and the government. She said that regressive policies were being framed to appease the violent forces and mindset that inculcate hatred among citizens on the basis of their identity. She said that the religious content in all compulsory subjects sometimes becomes hurtful for children, particularly believers of religions other than Islam, which needs to be reviewed.
Peter Jacob says Jinnah’s August 11 speech, his 14 points, Lahore resolution, and Liaquat-Nehru pact contributed to address deprivations, ensured equality of rights besides creating just system
CSJ Chairperson Wajahat Masood said that the political parties need to review their actions, as the laws introduced in haste under the influence of fundamental groups were difficult to be withdrawn. He said that the speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered on August 11, 1947 outlines the principles of tolerance and equality. However, he said that the objective resolution was contrary to what Jinnah aimed for.
It is a time that the state ought to introduce measures to ensure the equality of citizenship and rights for all, and demonstrate the neutrality of the state by removing the policy of preference on the basis of religion. Pakistan People’s Party representative Barrister Aamir Hassan said that the laws must not be inspired by religion to make the state affairs and religion separate as guaranteed by Jinnah in his speech on August 11, 1947.
He said that the law to amend Section 298-A passed by the parliament was problematic, as it was likely to be misused to make blasphemy accusations. On the occasion, Benazir Shah said that regrettably, political parties lack an understanding of human rights issues, and they seem to be ‘non-serious’ about addressing the issues that minorities face. She said that textbooks developed under single national curriculum should not be taught to religious minorities as guaranteed in Article 22(1) of the constitution.
She said that political parties must not surrender their power to those forces which use ‘religion’ for their political gains, and prevent progressive policy actions. Journalist and activist Veengas Yasmeen said that successive governments have ‘failed’ to introduce legislation to address phenomenon of forced conversions. She that the minor girls’ dreams matter and their spirits should not be murdered by forced conversion and underage marriage, so their rights need to be protected by the state.
Advocate Saqib Jillani called upon the governments at the federal and provincial levels, to pay comprehensive and urgent attention to the challenges – e.g. forced conversion, freedom of belief and freedom of study their own religion – faced by the minorities and ensure implementation of the judgment of the Supreme Court – delivered on June 19, 2014 – in letter and spirit.
Wajahat Masood says state must ensure equality of citizenship and rights for all; also show neutrality by removing policy of preference on faith basis
Dr Yaqoob Bangash said that acts of discrimination, prejudice, and violence on different grounds were the reality, the political parties must consider introducing laws and policies that contribute to bringing about positive change in the mindset of people. Professor Kalyan Singh Kalyan said the curriculum should focus on promoting inclusion, diversity and interaction between majority and minority students to curb religious intolerance.
He said that the school curricula and textbooks should focus on promoting inclusion, diversity, critical thinking, and learning outcomes. Moreover, he said that the minorities should have access to suitable alternatives to compulsory Islamic education. Suneel Malik presented findings of a report – ‘Promises to keep and miles to go’ – regarding assessment of the delivery of the pledges about minorities’ rights in the elections manifestos.
He said that the political parties must not forget their commitments to the electorate, instead, they must focus on actions to implement the pledges they make in the manifesto to improve the human rights situation in general, and religious freedom and minorities rights in particular. Jamaat-e-Islami representative Azhar Iqbal said that the political parties need to prioritize the protection of minorities’ rights, and make efforts to enhance social cohesion in the society.
Pakistan Muslim League-Q representative Ishtiaq Gohar said that forced faith conversion was against Islamic traditions, so was unacceptable. He said that the political parties must fulfill their promise, and take effective measures to address human rights issues affecting marginalized groups. Pressing issues such as forced conversion, establishing the National Commission for Minorities, compliance of judgment regarding minorities’ rights, and affirmative action for religious minorities, were discussed.
Two documentary films were shown at the convention. One on the importance and relevance of the National Minorities’ Day and the second film Humsaya, a CSJ’s production that owned a best documentary on human rights award at the prestigious Venice Intercultural Film Festival in June 2023. The participants call upon the federal and provincial governments to take the following measures:
1: Amend the provisions in the constitution that are incompatible with fundamental rights to remove conceptual inconsistencies about equality of rights among citizens. Moreover, the terminology ‘non-Muslim’ be avoided, and ‘minorities’ be used in the constitution.
2: Deliver on their pledges made in the electoral manifesto related to minorities’ inclusion, empowerment, and rights.
3: Set up empowered inter-ministerial and cross-sectional implementation committees at the federal and provincial levels to oversee the progress, and persuade the ministries and departments concerned to take legally effective and serious measures to comply with seven court orders from the landmark Supreme Court judgment regarding minorities’ rights issued on 19th June 2014, and present the report to the Supreme Court Bench hearing the follow-up applications.
4: Adopt the curriculum for the subject of religious education in lieu of Islamiyat, notified by the Federal Ministry of Education, and make adequate arrangements to engage writers, print textbooks, and hire teachers to ensure teaching minority students from seven different faith backgrounds their respective religions in educational institutions.
5: Introduce educational reforms after consultation with the civil society, and ensure that the policy measures in pursuance of improving curricula, textbooks, and examination system contribute to developing inclusive and equitable quality education, and they do not violate the constitutional protection of religious freedom and non-discrimination under Articles 20, 22 (1), and 25 of the constitution.
6: Constitute an independent, autonomous, and resourceful task force for minorities, and the National Commission for Minorities through an act of the parliament, with a clear mandate in accordance with the directives of the Supreme Court, in order to deliver substantial progress regarding the implementation of minorities’ rights.
7: Institute a regulatory body through enactment, with a mandate to monitor and address complaints, in order to enforce the job quota reserved for religious minorities in public sector jobs.
8: Criminalize forced faith conversions through protective legislation to bring perpetrators to justice for their crimes involving child marriage, forced conversion, and sexual violence.
9: Set up an empowered implementation committee to give effect to the recommendations of the judicial inquiry of the 2009 incident of Gojra, in order to prevent misuse of blasphemy laws, and reduce exposure of minorities to intolerance, and better respond to violence targeted against minorities, and prosecute actors involved in incitement to violence using pretext of just accusations.