Human Rights of the ordinary people are grossly abused in every part of the world. The failure of the state governments to deal with violation of Human Rights is unfortunately an international phenomena. This is more true of countries with large share of uneducated, poor and defenseless people and, understandably, in countries which are governed by age old religious principles and laws. Millions of men, women & children are grossly abused and disregarded merely because of their religious and ethnic background.
Despite the promises of universal declaration of human rights that every person shall have the right to have a dignified and respectful standard of living without any discrimination on the basis of sex, caste, language and religion, the ability of the state to protect the human rights in several countries is in crisis. The very credibility of the international Human Rights system is at stake and its ability to protect the human right of minorities, women and children is being questioned all over the world.
The situation of human rights violations in Pakistan is probably worse. As a matter of fact there is a statutory protection and support to the violations of human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan.
The political structure of Pakistan is based on parliamentary democracy. starting as a Secular Democracy, Pakistan has gradually moved close to being a Theocratic state. Islam is the state religion of the country according to which the sovereignty belongs to its God alone. The parliament of Pakistan exercises its authority within the limits prescribed by ALLAH.
No law which is repugnant to Islamic injunctions can be enacted and all the existing laws are to be brought in conformity with these injunctions. The Federal Shariat Court can strike down any law on the ground of being repugnant to Islam. It can also suggest amendments in statutes. The constitution also provides for a council of Islamic Ideology comprising religious scholars to advise the government on Islamisation of laws, state policies and practices.
2: RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY OF PAKISTAN
The minorities which formed 23 percent of the population at the time of the partition of India, in 1947, has been reduced to about to 4 percent. The approximate population of Pakistan is 150 million. According to the census taken in 1998, 96 percent of the population are Muslims, 2.02 percent are Hindus, 1.69 percent are Christians and 0.35 percent are others, which includes Sikh, Ahmadis and other religious groups. The majority of Muslims in Pakistan are Sunnis.
As per the census, Hindus are the largest minorities group in Pakistan with population of 2.8 million, Christian 2.09 percent million, Ahmadis 286,000, Buddhists 20,000, Sikhs 20,000, Parsis 20,000 and Bahai’is 30,000. There are many religious groups which do not want to disclose their religious affiliation due to social pressure.
3: RELIGIOUS PRACTICE
Many varieties of Hinduism are practiced in Pakistan. There are approximately 1500 Hindu Temples and Shrines in Sindh, 500 in Baluchistan and 750 in Punjab Province. Most of them are unattended and ruined because of the collapse of the Hindu population in the country. The Sikh community holds ceremonial gatherings at places of Sikh pilgrimage. The Christian community is very organized and regular prayers are being offered at all the Churches situated in Pakistan.
4. LAW AND THE GOVERNMENT
The policy of the Government of the Pakistan does not ensure equal protection to the members of majority and minority faiths. All citizens, regardless to their religious affiliation are subject to the provisions of Shariat (Islamic Law). The System of justice has several overlapping and confronting jurisdictions.
The federal Shariat Court and the Shariat bench of Supreme Court serve as the appellate court for certain convictions in Hadood ordinances. The judges and attorney in these courts must be Muslim only. The federal Shariat Court can over turn any legislation found to be inconsistent with the tenets of Islam.
In Malkhand and Kahistan division of North-West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.), the ordinances require that ‘all cases, suits, enquires, matters and proceedings shall be decided in accordance with Shariat.’
The penal code incorporates the doctrine of Quiyas (eye for an eye) and Diyat (blood money). The Hindu and Christian activists allege if a Muslim kills a non Muslim, the killer can redress the crime by paying Diyat to the victim’s family. However a non-Muslim who kills a Muslim does not have or enjoy that option and must face the death penalty.
The Hadood ordinances, enacted to make penal laws more Islamic, provide harsh punishments for violation of Shariat including death penalty by stoning for unlawful sexual relations and amputation for other crimes.
There are special provisions and rule of evidence in the cases involving Hadd (Quranic punishments). These special provisions are discriminatory to minority communities. In the cases involving Hadd, the law of evidence require that a non-Muslims may testify if the victim is also non-Muslim but the statement of women and non-Muslim is not admissible in evidence if the victim is a Muslim.
All extra marital sexual relations are violation of Islamic law. According to Hadood Ordinances if a Muslim or other woman can not prove the absence of consent in a rape case, she may be charged for Adultery. In majority of rape cases the victim is pressurized to drop rape charges because of threat of Hadood charges.
A parliamentary commission of enquiry, investigating the complaints by the minority communities and human rights groups in Pakistan, has also criticized the Hadood ordinances and recommended their repeal.
The constitution of Pakistan safeguards ‘educational institutions with respect to religion’. Under the constitution, no student can be forced to receive religious instruction or to participate in religious worship other than his or her own religion. The denial of religious instruction for students of any religious community or denomination is also prohibited under the constitution.
However, the ground reality is altogether different. The teaching of islamiat (Islamic studies) is compulsory in schools and colleges of the country for Muslim students. Although the students of other faiths are not required to study Islam, they are not provided with parallel opportunity to study their own faith. The Muslim teachers compel the non-Muslim students to complete course of Islamic studies.
A report recently published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad, notes: “Four primary themes that emerge most strongly as constituting the bulk of the curriculum and textbooks… are (a) Pakistan is for Muslims alone (b) Islamiat is to be forcibly taught to all students, whatever their faith, including compulsory reading of QU’RAN (c) the ideology of Pakistan is to be internalized as faith, and hate be created against Hindus and India (d) the students are to be urged to take the path of Jehad & Shahadat”. Further, “associated with the insistence on the ideology of Pakistan has been an essential component of hate against India and the Hindus…”.
Many Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Ahmedi students report that they faced discrimination in applying to government education institutions due to their religious affiliations. They are rejected because of their religious affiliations on their application forms.
With the ever increasing religious intolerance against the non-Muslims religious minorities, Pakistan figures as one of the glaring examples of religious intolerance in the world.
Section 295/C of the Pakistan Penal Code (blasphemy law) imposes death penalty on anyone found to have “by word or visible representation or by an imputation or insinuation, directly or indirectly defied the name of Prophet Mohammad of Islam. Similarly, anybody blamed as blasphemer against Quran would be awarded life imprisonment under Section 295/C of the Blasphemy Act.
After the introduction of blasphemy laws in 1985, hundreds of non-Muslims mostly Hindus, Christians and Ahmedis have been killed by the Muslim fanatics or made to flee the country or put in the jail where they get inhuman treatment both at the hands of Muslim jail authorities and Muslims inmates.
Any voice to repeal blasphemy laws is ruthlessly suppressed and the fanatic Islamists do not show any leniency in cases of blasphemy. In 1996, Mr. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of the Lahore High Court was shot dead by a Muslim fanatic because he had acquitted 3 undertrials of blasphemy charges.
Another judge of Lahore High Court, Mr. Justice Hajir Akhtar was highly partial on the issue of blasphemy. He declared that “anybody blamed with blasphemy charges should be killed instantly by Muslims as a religious obligation”. He further remarked that there was no need for any legal proceedings for a blasphemer. These remarks of the judge were published in the National Print Media.
This is the height of injustice that hundreds of victims of blasphemy are languishing in jails without any hope. There are cases where people are in jail for several years but no court is prepared to dispose off their cases. No judge is prepared to take up the trial of these prisoners. In several cases of blasphemy, the accused after prolonged imprisonment was acquitted by the courts but no action was taken against the complainants.
No estimate of the total number of religious detainees is available; however, the government has arrested and detained numerous Muslims and non-Muslims for their religious beliefs and practices under the blasphemy and anti-Ahmedi laws. According to the N.C.J.P., religious minorities constitute a striking higher percentage of the prison population. Government officials state that although religious minorities account for approximately 4 percent of the country’s population, 25 percent of the cases filed under the blasphemy laws are against the religious minorities.
According to the bi-annual survey submitted by Sh. Gyan Chand Singh, Member Parliament, Pakistan and Director, Parliamentarian Commission for Human Rights, Pakistan, in the year 2005.
“At least 60 persons were added to the long list of persecution on account of blasphemy. 53 persons were formally charged whereas allegations were leveled against seven persons.
Among the 53 persons charged of blasphemy, 27 (51%) were Muslims, 23 (43%) Ahmedis, Two (4%) Hindus and one (2%) Christian. Two allegations, one against a Christian woman and the other against an Ahmedi man, proved to be false in the investigation. Among the total 60 victims 49 were men, six children and five women.
In April, Ashiq Nabi who was accused of desecrating the Holy Quran by his wife was shot dead by an unidentified person. In Naushera city a temple belonging to the Hindu community was destroyed in June, after allegation of desecrating the Holy Quran were leveled against Yousaf Masih, an elderly and illiterate sanitary worker.
Sixty (60) accused in six months would be a record blasphemy cases registered. In 2004, 88 persons were charged and accused under the blasphemy provisions, which was the highest number of accused in one year. Twenty six cases were registered in 2004 where as 18 have been registered in 2005 so far. There is a visible tendency of hauling more people in one FIR by the complainants.”
Almost all the human right organizations are demanding the abolition of blasphemy laws. There is also a demand that pending abolition of blasphemy laws, preventive measures be introduced to prevent the misuse of law against the religious minorities.
7. FORCED RELIGION CONVERSION
The recently published “Human Rights Monitor-2005”, by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, gives a detailed account of the state of religious minorities in Pakistan in 2004. Focusing on increasing bias against certain segments of society, the report is a comment on the government’s rhetoric of equality, which it says is unsubstantiated by actions.
Although the constitution provides for security and freedom to people belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, the state seldom invokes these articles in case of violation.
In the absence of strict adherence to the constitutional guarantees a distrust in government institution become inevitable. This distrust is more severely felt by religious minorities and the under privileged.
Attacks on the places of worship of the minorities, instances of forced conversions, discriminatory laws used as weapons for political leverage and the eviction of minorities indicate the failure of the state government to ensure protection of human rights.
As per the statistics provided by NCJP, the total number of conversions in 2004 were 116. The NCJP records that 762 non-Muslims were forcibly converted to Islam between 1999 and 2004. Based on an article published in a national daily, the NCJP observed that the Kalash people were the latest victims of the drive.
According to Hindu Panchayat, the incidents of forced conversions of Hindu girls are increasing everyday. The number of persons belonging to the non-Muslim religious minority and converted to Islam for getting public employment, pardon, government contracts etc. is astonishing.
There have also been shocking cases of rape and murder of Hindu, Sikh and Christian girls. The culprits remain untraced and the girls remain un-recovered because the Muslim police favors the Muslim abductors.
When a Hindu or a Christian woman is abducted, she is forced to change her religion. If under coercion she does so her previous marriage under Islamic Law becomes null and void. Nobody bothers as to what becomes of the children born by way of the previous wedlock. Many families, because of forceful conversion to Islam, have been ruined.
The constitution of Pakistan, on paper provides for the freedom of religion and ensures that all the religious minorities are free to practice and propagate their religion. But the picture is altogether different at the practical level.
Being an Islamic Republic, Islam is the core element of the constitution of Pakistan and its national ideology. As per the constitution, the prime minister and all the officers of the government are required to preserve and propagate Islamic ideology of Pakistan.
Although freedom of speech has been guaranteed by the constitution but this freedom is subject to the restrictions imposed by the interest and glory of Islam.
The constitution of Pakistan, on paper prohibits discrimination in admission to any government educational institute but many Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Ahmedis feel discriminated due to their religious affiliations.
There is a collapse of Hindu population in Pakistan understandably because of conversions under pressure, both direct and indirect, the Christians and Ahmadis are being subjected to killings and attacks on their places of worship everyday. The state of affairs of minorities in Pakistan speaks volumes of sufferings and Human right abuses being suffered by religious minorities in Pakistan.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs, entrusted with safeguarding religious freedom, displays a Koranic verse as its motto : “Islam is the only religion acceptable to God”. The ministry claims that it spends 30 percent of the annual budget to help minorities to repair their places of worship and to set up minority development schemes. However, the reality on the ground level is altogether different. According to the minority communities the village and localities housing minority communities go even without the basic civic amenities. The national Commission for Justice and Peace using official budget figures calculated that “the government actually spends $ 17 on each Muslim and only $ 3.20 on each religious minority citizen per month”.
9. LACK OF PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
State indifference to minority religions motivates violence against the persons belonging to religious minorities. It has contributed to an increase of such abuse against Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Ahmedis. The fundamentalists know that they can carry out attacks against religious minorities with impunity.
As a matter of fact, only in the rarest of rare cases is action taken against the perpetrators of such abuse. This attitude of the govt. further consolidates perception of indifference which is very clear to official support.
There are confirmed reports that the police have stood passively during the attack on Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Ahmadis and on the place of their worship. In many cases the machinery of the government had failed to exercise due diligence in protecting members of the minority from imminent attack and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attacks.
On February 6 and 7 of 1997, a fanatic Muslim mob looted and burned the Christian village of Shantinagar in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Local police participated in the attack and were suspected of having instigated the riot by inventing a spurious charge that a Christian man had desecrated a copy of the Koran. Some 20,000 individuals were rendered homeless. The Central Government took immediate relief action, deploying troops briefly to restore order, and the Prime Minister visited the village. The Government did not provide any compensation for personal property lost in the incident. The villagers remained fearful of further attacks, and the police officers believed to be responsible for the riot, though transferred and briefly suspended, did not face any criminal prosecution. The 86 people who were charged with offences related to the attack were all eventually released on bail and there was no indication that authorities planned to bring them to trial.
There have also been shocking cases of rape and murder of Christian women. On their way home from working at a factory eight Christian girls, were gang raped at gunpoint by Muslim men in May, 2000. In 1998, four Muslim men raped a seven year old girl named Nagina. In February 2001, another Christian minor girl (a school student) named Naira was abducted by an influential Muslim fellow. The culprit is still at large and the girl still remains un-recovered.
On October 12, 2000 a mob comprising more than 5000 fanatic Muslims destroyed a Hindu temple and torched several Hindu houses in the Dalbadin area of Pakistan. The reasons for this barbaric act was that an illiterate Hindu housewife had allegedly distributed sweets wrapped in a page of textbook that contained religious verses. The Pakistani police, instead of arresting the leader of the violent mob, arrested the surviving victim.
In the month of October 2004, a 13 year old Hindu girl, living in Baluchistan was converted to Islam. Her teachers said that she had converted to Islam in their presence. The parents of the girl got scared and took the girl away from
Baluchistan and went to Sindh. The Islamist came to the streets. The girl was brought into the court where she said “I do not know anything of what this teacher is talking about. I am just a 13 year old girl. I and my parents are Hindus. I continue to be Hindu.” She was sent back with her parents but there was a strike in Baluchistan after which the Hindu community had to shift from Baluchistan. The Government of Pakistan did not utter even a word.
In an article published in DAWN on October 2, 2004, Asma Jahangir, a human right activist cited an exceptional example of human rights abuse. A Hindu Income Tax officer got lynched in the presence of the army personnel for allegedly having made a remark on the beard of a trader. Promptly the unfortunate Hindu government servant was booked for having committed blasphemy, while the trader and the Lashkar-e-Toiba activists were offered tea by the state authorities.
According to the BBC report on slavery there are about two million bonded laborers in Pakistan. Most of these bonded laborers belong to the religious minorities.
In October 2004, Anwar Jallal reported in DAWN that in the Sindh province in Pakistan, “kidnapping for ransom is a common phenomenon. In most of the cases the abducted person happens to be a Hindu. The police as usual refuse to register a case, and then the kidnappers are allowed to get away as far as possible.”
Several Ahmedis have been killed and all these killings have been motivated by Anti-Ahmedis sentiment. The sectarian violence against Hindus and Christians has also increased during the recent years.
State indifference to religiously motivated violence against members of the religious minorities has contributed to an increase of such abuse against Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians, as opponents of these groups believe that they can carry out such attacks with impunity. More than 30 Ahmadis have been killed over the last five years in Pakistan, apparently by people who oppose their faith. The fact that only in the rarest of rare cases action is taken against the perpetrators of such abuses further consolidates this perception of official indifference, if not implicit support. In most of the recent cases of violence against Ahmadis, such attacks were preceded by months of harassment, threats and attacks which officials did little to curb or prevent.
According to the report submitted by the Parliamentarian Commission for Human Rights of Pakistan:
“A number of incidents of extreme violence took place in the first half of 2005 indicate the widespread religious intolerance in the society:
Shamaoon Babar, a pastor of the Gospel Church along with Mr. Daniel, his driver was kidnapped and later murdered at Peshawar. He was earlier warned against proselytizing Muslims. A Muslim youth chopped off the right arm of Shahbaz, a Christian youth of Talwandi (a village near Faisalabad) with a hatchet aftera minor altercation (February 2005). Some Muslim youths broke Shahbaz Masih’s leg, an agricultural laborer of Mandi Bahauddin after a brief discussion on religion. He was allegedly asked to convert after an argument about using separate utensils (April 2005)
The members of religious minority communities were also subjected to systemic crimes such as kidnapping for ransom, especially Hindus in Sindh and work in bondage in Punjab and Sindh Provinces. Two Hindu youths (Gobindar Ram and Satram Dass) of a village Saleh Patt district Sukkar, were kidnapped and slain in April 2005. In June 2005, three other youths Pawan Kumar, Amresh Kumar and Kamlesh Kumar were kidnapped in Khairpur but released ten days later reportedly after paying a ransom (six lacs)
Hanifan Bibi, a Christian woman, who worked as a housemaid for a Muslim family at AL-Noor Town Lahore, was kept under illegal detention along with six family members and tortured by her employer.
In June 2005, 26 Hindu families of Chak 63 DB, Yazman were at the verge of eviction after the local authorities allotted the piece (four acres) of land to a local Muslim Zamindars. An influential member of National Assembly from Bahawalpur was reportedly favouring the eviction.
The perpetrators of rape and kidnapping of Amrati Mai and Bakhtu Mai at Yazman last year are at large and could not be brought to justice. A Hindu minor (04), was sodomized by a Muslim youth, at Mirpur Khas ”
There are hundreds of legal claims and disputes pending in different courts regarding illegal occupation of the Christian graveyards and Hindu Temples, including the recent ones Aboottabad, Bahawalpur and Bajour during the 2005. Christian community of Bajour Agency remained deprived of permission to build a church and provision of land for a cemetery.
In January, the Ahmadi Community in Dera Ismail Khan was stopped from praying together in a house by the local police. Their place of worship was sealed in 1997 and the building was turned into a Mosque.
The evacuee Trust Property Board demolished a larger part of a temple at C-Block district Vehari (April 9, 2005).”
10. THE POLITICAL APARTHEID
Till recently under the Pakistani electoral system the minorities voted for reserved at large seats. They were not allowed to vote for non-minority candidates who represented actual constituencies.
The separate electoral system was brought by Gen. Zia-ul-Haque, through presidential order No. 19 of 1985 which amended article 51 & 105 of the Constitution of Pakistan. By virtue of these amendments citizen of Pakistan were barred from voting for the candidates belonging to other than their own religious identity.
The religious minorities were only allowed to vote for limited seats reserved for their communities. 10 out of 217 seats are reserved for minorities in parliament and 23 out of 483 seats are reserved for minorities in the four provincial assemblies of Pakistan.
The separate electoral system provided the ground for official religious discrimination in Pakistan. This system also expedited the process of socio-political deprivation of minority communities. This system ensure that minority groups can never take a common stand against the discriminatory Islamic laws. This system was so designed that minority members could never unite even on the issues that meant life and death for their communities.
In January 2002 the government of Pakistan eliminated the system of separate electorate, but the damage caused to the minority communities during the intermittent years can never be restored.
11. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The causes and consequences of abuse of minority rights as described in this report are rooted in religious discrimination are fastened by an atmosphere of intolerance which has perceptibly grown in over the recent years.
Abuse of religious minorities is practiced in many ways such as bringing false charges leading to long periods of arbitrary detention, threats and the use of violence by Islamist and the denial of legal redressal by the system of justice to the victims of abuse. The Blasphemy laws of Pakistan apart from being inhuman, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary.
The blasphemy laws have contributed to an atmosphere of hostility towards religious minorities in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan should ensure the prevention of abuse by strengthening institutional and legal safeguards and should make the abuse of law itself an offence.
All reported acts of violence against the religious minorities should be promptly investigated and all preventive steps should be taken to prevent their re-occurrence.
The government should ensure that the minority communities are allowed to run and administer the educational institutions of their own choice and there is no interference in the management of these institutions by the government. A Minorities financial commission should be established and the state should ensure financial assistance and support to the persons belonging to religious minorities.
There should be specific reservations for minorities in the educational and other professional institutions and the Constitution of Pakistan should be amended to ensure the proportionate representation of minority communities in government jobs, police / security forces and in all other statutory bodies including the judiciary.
Any discrimination on the ground of religion should be stopped. An atmosphere should be created to facilitate the practice of tolerance and the dialogue amongst the different religious groups. There is an urgent need to restore the faith of the minorities in the system of justice in Pakistan. It is high time that discrimination on the grounds of religion be stopped not by mere words but by deeds.
It is of utmost importance that an atmosphere be created to facilitate the ACTUAL practice of tolerance and healthy dialogue among different religious groups.
The need of the hour is to restore the faith which has been shattered repeatedly, of the religious minorities in the system of justice of Pakistan.