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Our house is not in order

An accurate measure of a truly thriving and pluralistic society lies in how it treats its minorities. In Pakistan, a nation grappling with religious extremism, the plight of minorities remains an ever so pressing concern.

In Sep 2017, the tragic case of Sharoon Masih, a young student lynched to death simply for drinking water from his Muslim classmate’s glass, serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by minorities. Such incidents, which often go unnoticed and unaddressed, only perpetuate an atmosphere of fear and despair.

The horrifying incident surrounding Sharoon Masih’s murder sent shockwaves across Pakistan. Yet, despite the initial outrage, the pursuit of justice could not see the light of the day. The lack of accountability in cases like this undermines the confidence of minority communities and perpetuates a sense of impunity in Pakistan’s state institutions. It is disheartening to witness countless cases where justice is denied, leaving families and communities to endure the anguish of injustice.

Minority communities, particularly Christians, face severe economic marginalization, limiting their social mobility and prospects for a better future. Many are confined to menial jobs such as garbage or sewage cleaners, earning meagre wages that are barely enough to sustain their families. Such economic disparities obstruct the social and economic dynamics of these communities, further exacerbating their vulnerability and perpetuating cycles of poverty.

In addition to economic hardships, minority communities also grapple with cases of forced conversions. The Hindu community witnesses instances where young girls are coerced into changing their religion, tearing families apart and causing immense distress.

These acts of religious discrimination not only violate the fundamental rights of individuals but also undermine the social fabric of a pluralistic society.

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pakistani minorities reveals that approximately 1,000 girls from minority communities, aged between 12 and 25, are forcibly converted to Islam and married to their abductors every year, which has been termed as a human rights catastrophe.

The continued persecution of minorities erodes the social fabric of Pakistan and breeds resentment among different religious and ethnic groups. These incidents sow the seeds of division and polarization within society, hindering the progress of any society.

Pakistan’s international image suffers when it fails to address human rights violations within its borders. It becomes difficult for the country to effectively condemn violations elsewhere when its own track record remains inconsistent. The promotion and protection of minority rights is crucial not only for the wellbeing of those affected but also for the country’s reputation and standing on the global stage.

While we rightfully address Indian atrocities in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) on global platforms, our narrative would gain greater strength and credibility when minorities within our country can live in peace and without fear of persecution.

It is essential for us to prioritize the wellbeing and protection of all our citizens to present a compelling and consistent stance on human rights issues. Pakistan, as a nation, must put its house in order first.

Derogatory slurs commonly used for sanitary workers, primarily comprising Christians, remain an epidemic in Pakistan. Astonishingly, in November 2020, the government of Sindh published a job advertisement specifically inviting applications from non-Muslims for a sanitation position, reflecting a concerning mindset within government structures.

However, amidst this disheartening environment, there are emerging efforts to combat this systematic discrimination from top to bottom. In November 2022, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) made a significant statement, asserting that all jobs, including those of sanitary workers, must be open to all individuals, as associating religious minorities with such professions goes against the constitution and violates human dignity standards.

The Rwanda genocide stands as an example of how the term ‘cockroaches’ was used to dehumanize the Tutsi minority community. Derogatory terms have been recognized as an initial first step towards accelerating the persecution of minority groups, often further leading to mass genocides. Tragically, in just 100 days in 1994, approximately 800,000 people were brutally slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists.

In 2007, under the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Ferdinand Nahimana, a prominent Rwandan historian, was convicted and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment for inciting genocide. Overall, this incident remains a stark reminder of the consequences of hate speech and politics of resentment.

To address this neglected issue, law-making will not be enough. Pakistan needs a concerted effort to promote liberal education that embraces inclusivity and religious sensitivity. Educational institutions should foster an environment that encourages dialogue, respect, and understanding among different religious and ethnic communities.

By incorporating curricula that promote tolerance, diversity, and empathy, young minds can be shaped to appreciate the richness of Pakistan’s multicultural society. Sensitizing the wider population through public awareness campaigns and community initiatives can help combat prejudice and promote harmony.

Respecting the rights of minorities is not only a moral imperative but also a vital step towards building a thriving and inclusive society. Pakistan must confront the challenges faced by minority communities, ensuring that justice is served, economic opportunities are accessible, and religious freedom is safeguarded.

By valuing diversity, fostering inclusivity, and promoting education that instils empathy and understanding, Pakistan can pave the way for a brighter and more harmonious future. It is only through such collective efforts that the nation can rise above religious extremism and embrace the principles of equality, justice, and compassion for all its citizens.

Eric Shahzar, "Our house is not in order," The News. 2023-08-27.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social fabric , Hindu community , Minorities , Region , Sharoon Masih , Pakistan , Kashmir , APPG , ICTR