“This figure alone tells the deplorable state of minorities in the country,” aptly concluded Justice (retd) Mehta Kailash Nath Kohli, the keynote speaker on the first day of a two-day workshop, ‘Status of Religious Minorities in Pakistan: Challenges and Response’, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at the Avari Towers on Saturday.
The judge, who hails from Quetta, spoke how his community members — the Hindus — are being abducted and kidnapped. “Since Pakistan’s inception, not a single law has been legislated in favour of religious minorities,” he added.
Human rights defenders from Palestine, France, Indonesia and Philippines gravely listened to the woes of the minorities.
The issue of land grabbing of the houses of worships and properties by the Evacuee Trust Property Board also became a part of the discussion. Lawyer Rochi Ram claimed that one-million acre land in Badin, Umerkot and Tharparkar was left behind by the Hindus but the land was no longer under the community’s ownership. “The government takes over the land and gives it on lease. Many burial places belong to the non-Muslims but we are not allowed to bury the bodies over there.”
A speaker, M Prakash, said that there were 350 temples and gurdwaras in Sindh but only five to 10 were owned by them. Minority members pointed out how discussions over the misuse of the blasphemy law have disappeared from the forefront. “We have forwarded recommendations to the government on how can we stop the misuse of this law,” said father Emmanuel Yousaf.
Another participant, Jaipal Chhabria, lamented that there was not a single Christian parliamentarian in Sindh Assembly. “Bilawal Bhutto dreams of having a Christian prime minster but his government did not to make the required amendments to allow minorities to hold important positions.”
He frowned that the media showed Hindus as opportunists. HRCP’s vice-chairperson Amarnath Motumal discussed how personal laws and marriage rights of their community were being completely ignored. “The courts do not recognise our rights. Even seven-year-old girls are being converted.”
Pushpa Kumari broke down into tears as she narrated the incident when a body of a 17-year-old girl was taken out from a graveyard because she was buried in a Muslim graveyard.
Carrying a bunch of newspapers dated last week, she said, “There are five cases of sexual harassment of Hindu women in Sindh, including the gang rape of a teenager.”
Kumari said that recently the government released 39 bonded labourers of the Hindu community, but asked would it take their responsibility. She narrated how in 1996, she was told to quit her job at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission because their policy did not allow Hindus to work there.
A Sikh community member, Sardar Kalyan Singh, said that when they go to Peshawar or FATA, they have to pay Jizyah, which is sometimes Rs25,000, per person per year.
“Two days ago, a member of the Sikh community was killed because he refused to pay Jizya. When we spoke to the minister, he said that he is being forced to pay the same, so we should abide.”
A member of the Ahmadi community, Amir Mahmood, called for elimination of the anti-Ahmadi Ordinance.
Barkat Ali from the Hazara community said that he had lost his cousin in the recent attack on Hazara pilgrims. “We are left with no hope and we think the government is not serious about solving anything.”
Bigger picture: Foreign activists paint dismal picture
Foreign human rights defenders also shared the situation in their countries. Ihsan Ali Fauzi, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Religion and Demonstration in Indonesia, said that since 2006, discrimination and violence against Ahmadis, Biharis, Christians and Shias had increased.
Through his presentation, he shared that attacks on minorities have risen from 216 in 2010 to 244 in 2011. Fauzi said that the blasphemy law which came into existence in Indonesia in 2008, and the laws pertaining to seeking permission before building a house of worship led towards religious intolerance.
Present at the HRCP workshop, Palestinian Al-Haq’s general-director Shawan Jabarin, said that Pakistan’s government was not doing enough to tackle the human rights violations in the country.
“I feel that the government is not playing its part. The people here should be free from fear and enjoy freedom,” said Jabarin, who since 1987 has been fighting for the rights of his people back at home.
Jabarin, who also holds a Masters degree in International Human Rights Law, said that Al-Haq was founded in 1979 and is the first human rights organisation in the Middle East region. His organisation dealt with policies instead of isolated cases.
Jabarin is a firm believer of self-determination, and feels that people all over the world should be entitled to their right. “Back home, our people are not enjoying self-determination. They face property destruction and killings. We are struggling but one day we will get there. This is what we learn from history.”