Pakistan emerged as an independent country in 1947. It was earlier a part of India. Pakistan before separation was a mix of religions. Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism existed before the arrival of Islam in the Sindh region. With the rise in dominance of Mughal rule, the influence of Islam grew in this region. The conflicts between Hindus and Muslims emerged and the communal disputes strained the relations between Sikhs and Muslims. The political and communal instability in India under the colonial rule engendered the partition which resulted in the creation of Pakistan. India emerged as a Hindu majority state and Pakistan emerged as a Muslim majority state. Later, the communal problems could be observed in Pakistan as religious homogenization was taking place.[i]
Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was the leader of All India Muslim League played a very significant role in the partition process. He advocated impartial behaviour of the government which will be inclusive of every community without discriminating amongst them. He endorsed equality for all and envisioned Pakistan to be a liberal state. However, after his death aggravation in the dominance of Islam could be noticed. The state also oppressed the minorities through the discriminating nature of its policies.[ii]
The state was formed so that the Muslim community could freely practice and profess its religion without facing any differentiation and suppression as it was facing in India. Apart from the other religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, the Shia sect which is a part of Muslim community is not provided the basic human rights and is also facing persecution. Ahmadiyya community is another Muslim minority sect which is a victim of continuous aggression of the majority.[iii] The violation of the rights of these communities defeats the main intention behind the formation of the state.
Various committees were formed for drafting the constitution of Pakistan. In the objective resolution, 1949, provisions were given to safeguard the rights and interests of the minorities. Freedom was given to practice and profess their religion. The 1973 constitution of Pakistan[iv] ensures fundamental rights to all the citizens of the country including the religious minorities. Seats in the lower house of the state are also reserved for these minorities. The state describes that there will be no discrimination with the minority communities in the public places. Their culture, language and practices will be protected without any illegal encroachment.[v]
The objective resolution defeated the thoughts of equality and protection of minorities. Through this resolution, the supreme power was vested in ‘Allah’ which brought a religion element into the picture. The sovereignty was no longer with the people of the country. Provisions were delineated which described that the laws need to be in conformity with the ideologies of Islam. This gave power and authority to the views and beliefs of Islam. These provisions were in contravention to the democratic principle. The opinions and views of Jinnah who supported the rule of democracy were dismissed due to all these actions.[vi]
In 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq usurped the power of the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s civilian government. He was a proponent of Islam and therefore, he promoted Islamization in the country. As the majority population of the country were Muslims, he used Islam as a tool to legitimize his power and authority. The changes brought in his tenure brought pernicious consequences for the minorities of the country. He revised the blasphemy laws which were instrumental in violating the rights of religious minorities.[vii]
The blasphemy laws were used to punish those whose deliberately and with malicious intention hurting feelings related to the religion of the citizens belonging to any religion. The punishment for the same ranged from fine to death sentence. These punishments were mainly used to suppress the freedom of expression. They curtailed the freedom of various NGOs, journalists and of people of the minorities who expressed their opinions against the exploitation of the minorities.[viii]
The provinces of Pakistan like Karachi, Punjab and some regions of north west frontier province witnessed increase in the population of Muslims. The population of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians declined. In the region of Balochistan and Sindh, the non-Muslim communities were retained. The majority oppressed the non-Muslim communities. The conditions of minorities deteriorated[ix]. The Muslim population in Pakistan constitutes 96.28% of the total population of Pakistan. The percentage of minorities in the country is 3.72 which shows that the religious minorities are under subjugation[x]. Ahmed Salim explained that the legal provisions and their implementation have converted the status of the people belonging to religious minorities to that of the second-class citizens.[xi]
Religious discrimination is practiced in the country. Abduction and forced conversion of the minorities especially of women are witnessed in the country. Sikhs face less oppression as compared to Hindus. They have some big and popular holy places. Their language Punjabi is similar to that of the language used by some of the people of the majority. This reduces the difference between these communities and somewhat, linguistically unites them. There are instances of persecution of people belonging to Kalash community who were forced to convert to the Zealot’s version of Islam. The Parsi community is also living under adverse conditions and faces excessive persecution[xii]. Akbar S. Ahmed who is an anthropologist stated that people of Parsi community are migrating to foreign countries because they are afraid of Talibanisation.[xiii]
The minorities are facing the issue of the seizing of their properties. When there was partition and many Hindus migrated to India, the property which they owned in Pakistan were managed and regulated by Evacuee Trust Property Board. They were not allowed to sell these properties and had to safeguard them but they illegally sold them. Same performance was exhibited with the management of the properties, when they left after the India Pakistan war in 1971. The burial places belonging to the Dalits, were annexed by the Muslims. The board has failed to manage and protect the property efficiently.[xiv]
According to a report given by the Minority Rights Group International, Pakistan was ranked in one of the top ten place where large scale violence was present in the year 2008[xv]. The security of the minorities is in jeopardy due to the threatful and violent activities of extremist Islamist are rising. There is lack of strong and effective legal mechanisms of certifying marriage due to which there are problems for women to get national identity cards and in claiming the properties of their deceased husbands.[xvi] The religious intolerance is not uncommon. The religious minorities are not able to get a proper support from the police because of which they are not able to exercise their rights.[xvii]
The government is not putting any efforts to cease this discrimination and inequality prevailing in the country. The minorities feel isolated from the social, cultural and political mainstream. The constitution states that the head of the government and the head of the state can be a Muslim only which clearly shows the discrimination against the minorities as they cannot hold these positions.[xviii] The cases related to women belonging to the minorities being raped and being forcefully converted are increasing.[xix]
The textbooks present the history in a distorted manner and the minorities are displayed in a prejudiced way. This evolves the feelings of resentment against the religious minorities from childhood. The children are not allowed to select what they want to study, but the study of some specific things is imposed on them. The minority communities are not able to get adequate representation in the legislative bodies and other institutions. The personal laws of Hindus and Sikhs are not codified which results in non-implementation of their beliefs and ideologies.[xx]
The judiciary is also sometimes, controlled by the extremist and radical people belonging to the majority. As their security and life is also under threat, the justice system is not adhered to effectively. Even in the voting process there is differentiation on the grounds of religion. There are cases of demolishment of the religious institutions of the minorities. This shows the transgression in the provisions given in the constitution which gives the right to practice and profess any religion. The authorities which exist to uphold justice are ignoring the rampant violation of law and this violence against the minorities. [xxi]
Essential and adequate steps to ensure equality and to secure the rights of the minorities are not taken. The international treaties and resolutions are also violated. Transgression from all these conventions like International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic Social and Cultural Rights[xxii], the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[xxiii], the Convention on the Rights of the Child[xxiv], and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [xxv]can be seen.[xxvi]
The protection of minorities is crucial as this condition of minorities in Pakistan highlights that the basic rights which is vital to be guaranteed to every human being is violated blatantly. The government is required to enforce the legal provisions associated with protection of minorities. Uniformity and equality in the election process is necessary so that opinion of the minorities is also given recognition. The violators of the laws and the exploiters of the minorities must be punished. Regulation and revision of the existing education curriculum which shows minorities in an inappropriate manner is essential. Freedom of expression is crucial for improving the conditions of the minorities.[xxvii]
The social, political and economic inclusion must be assured so that development and progress of the minorities could be ensured. The freedom given in the constitution to practice and profess their religion should be really provided and safeguarded. Forced conversion, usurpation of the properties of minorities, demolishment of their institutions should be stopped. The government should devise some measures to establish harmony between both the majority and minority communities. The adherence to the international laws is essential. Support of the international institutions like United Nations, Human Rights Council and other such organisations is vital to get rid of this menace from Pakistan and other such countries
[i] Tariq Rahman, “Pakistan’s policies and practices towards the religious minorities”, 3 South Asian History and Culture 302- 305 (2012).
[ii] Id., at 305-306.
[iii] Neha M. Zaigham, “Report on issues faced by minorities in Pakistan”, South Asians for Human Rights.
[iv] The Constitution of Pakistan
[v] Huma Tahir, “Freedom of Religion and Status of Religious Minorities in Pakistan”, 5 International Journal of Management Sciences and Business Research 30 (2016)
[vi] Supra note 1 at 306
[viii] FIDH and HRCP, “Minorities under attack: Faith-based discrimination and violence in Pakistan” 8 (2015).
[ix] Supra note 1 at 303
[x] Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Government of Pakistan, “Population by Religion”.
[xi] Ahmad Salim, “Equal Citizens?” Friedrich Naumann Foundation (2006).
[xii] Supra note 1 at 304-305.
[xiii] Akbar S Ahmed, “The Exodus”, Newsline (2009).
[xiv] Supra note 8 at 9.
[xv] Minority Rights Group International, “Peoples under Threat” (2014).
[xvi] Sikha Dilawari, Searching for Security: The Rising Marginalization of Religious Communities in Pakistan (Minority Rights Group International 2014).
[xvii] Supra note 8
[xviii] Supra note 16
[xix] Supra note 1
[xx] Supra note 8 at 18
[xxii] International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966
[xxiii] The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 1965
[xxiv] The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
[xxv] The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 1979
[xxvi] Supra note 8 at 18
[xxvii] Supra note 8 at 19-21