National Minorities Day Reminder: Pakistan Wouldn’t Exist Without Religious Minorities
Persecution of minorities continues unabated in Pakistan. It remains a test of character for this nation, which we are failing.
Of course, there are no shortcuts to fix the problem. But we can’t surrender the legacy of our founders who vowed to protect citizens from human rights abuses and denial of religious freedom, which is precisely what we’re seeing on a daily basis.
Pakistan observes National Minorities Day on August 11 to honour religious minorities for their unprecedented role in nation-building. The nation commemorates the August 11, 1947 speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, where he pledged to protect the rights of non-Muslims in the newly created country.
Instead, the nation has witnessed decades of drought on the minorities’ rights front, under both dictatorships and civilian rule. The shadow continues to be cast over state responsibility, amid distorted priorities poisoning the ecosystems of tolerance, liberty, and respect.
As a result, another Minorities Day approaches in the midst of violence being committed in the name of religion. The current situation reminds us of minorities’ courage that is tested every day, while the majority fails to showcase the requisite tolerance.
Questions of fundamental rights and freedom in Pakistan have come into global focus with the European Parliament and US Department of State expressing serious concern over the state of religious minorities. They have called for amending the Constitution to protect minorities’ rights and freedoms.
Despite the atrocities committed by the majority, the minorities have more than played their part to bridge the differences and contribute to Pakistan’s progress. They continue to impeccably serve in forces, civil services, medicine, education, judiciary and elsewhere. Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, Brig (R) Simon Sharaf, Justice Alvin Bobby, Rana Bahubhali Bhagwandas, Robert Cornelius and Johnson Bernard, Dr James Shera, Sister Ruth Lewis, Johnson Bernard, Miss Nicole, Councillor Morris Johns, Nadib Gill, Dr Peter Johnson David are a few among many illustrious names that have helped develop Pakistan.
And yet, minorities continue to be treated as second-class citizens, vulnerable to acute discriminatory practices, including faith-based violence. The Minorities Alliance Pakistan has pointed out that religious minorities continue to suffer owing to social and economic disparities, with some of the ghastliest manifestations of persecution being forced conversions of under-age girls and the inexorable misuse of blasphemy law that carries the death penalty.
The government’s incoherent policies have only provided ammunition to the crisis facing the religious minorities. Every government puts regressive politics above social responsibility towards justice. As a result, the plight of the minorities has only aggravated.
Exclusionary nationalism has also developed in Pakistan, which has made it impossible for the people to come together in support of major systemic reforms. In this regard, it is critically important to understand Jinnah’s doctrine. We have not even taken the first step towards diversity and inclusion; one of the core objectives towards building Jinnah’s Pakistan.
Urgent attention is needed to halt vicious crimes in the name of religion. Minorities’ expressions of anger, grief, and despair, demonstrate how Pakistan is headed for a moral crash. Few democratic voices in Pakistan are taking this seriously, others are neither shaken nor shamed.
Such familiarly pusillanimous behaviour of our cultural warriors suggest that this is a time for serious debate about the future of minorities. For, we have a choice to make: we could cut Pakistan off from the world or we could prioritise the integrity of Pakistan itself.