The most horrifying of incidents, of a mob lynching and incinerating the bodies of a Christian couple accused of committing blasphemy, deeply shocked and saddened the nation. This was followed by another heart-breaking incident of rape and killing of a six-year-old child from the Hazara community in Quetta. In another incident, a man accused of blasphemy in prison was shot at by a prison guard, who was apparently under the ideological influence of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. In addition, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Wagah border, killing around 60 people and injuring many. Most of these crimes against humanity were committed by invoking religion as a pretext.
Therefore, it is imperative that these incidents of brutality should not be seen and condemned as isolated incidents. Such violence and vigilantism is the result of the jihadist policy that the state has followed. A radicalised mindset has been systematically created and supported in order to pursue political interests within the country and in the region. Thus, the state is equally responsible for this mob mentality and the violation of human rights in Pakistan.
We are now trapped. The monstrosity that was funded for decades is now challenging the state’s writ. Increasing intolerance in society is posing a serious existential threat to minority communities.
All such communities across Pakistan are at risk, due to increasing militancy and extremism, however, the nature of their oppression varies from area to area. They live in constant fear. Their lives and properties are often threatened. Due to growing intolerance and the inability of the government to protect them, they are often forced to leave the country. The size of the non-Muslim population at the time of independence was little over 15 per cent, which has now been reduced to just three per cent.
Forced conversions, and kidnapping of Hindu girls and marrying them to Muslim men forcibly are common in Sindh. The Hindu community faces backlash from the Muslim majority in case of any incident of discrimination that takes place in India against Muslims. The demolition of the Babri Masjid led to the burning and destruction of Hindu temples in Pakistan. The patriotism of non-Muslims is often doubted. According to Dr Ramesh Kumar, a PML-N legislator, 5,000 Hindus are migrating from Pakistan on a daily basis.
Similarly, the Christian community often comes under attack through accusations of having committed blasphemy, which leads to mob violence, not only against the accused, but the entire Christian community. Shantinagar, Gojra and Joseph Colony incidents are examples of this.
The Ahmadi community is also persecuted. Hate campaigns by extremists have been carried out through speeches and hate literature, including pamphlets, stickers, wall-chalkings. People are incited to kill Ahamdis and destroy their places of worship. They live in a constant state of fear and are not safe even in death as there have been cases of their graves being desecrated.
Such violence does not only targets non-Muslim Pakistanis. Sectarian outfits that operate under state patronage with complete impunity, like the Lashkar-e-Jahangvi, have been involved in the killings of Hazaras. Despite claiming responsibility of staging attacks on Hazaras, no action has been taken against them.
What makes Pakistan the most dangerous place for minorities is the inability and unwillingness of the state to punish the culprits. A culture of impunity exists for those engaged in mob violence, vigilantism, accusing and killing people for committing blasphemy even if they are found innocent after court proceedings. The pseudo-concern shown by the government through paying monetary compensation to the families of deceased is meaningless. It needs to take a holistic approach and institute substantive measure to stop this madness.
First of all, the state must treat all its citizens as equals, irrespective of their religious affiliation. The government should take the initiative by moving a bill in parliament to remove all constitutional provisions that discriminate against non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan. Secondly, it should encourage the Council of Islamic Ideology to work with parliament in ensuring that there is no scope left for misusing the blasphemy law. It should also ban and take stern action against all those sectarian organisations that are promoting hatred and inciting violence.
The government needs to strictly monitor sermons given in religious congregations in mosques and elsewhere, and should take firm action against those promoting violence through them. All madrassas should be under the control of the provincial education departments and ministries. Hate material against minorities should be removed from the curriculum and respect for all world religions should be promoted in our textbooks.
Currently, 1,100 cases of blasphemy are registered in the country, the majority of them against Muslims. All these cases should be decided within the next six months and those found innocent must be released. Speedy justice and severe punishment must be given to those who were involved in mob violence in Joseph Colony and in the Kot Radha Kishan incidents. This could help give a sense of security to minorities. The government must compensate the victims of mob violence and beef up security in areas where minorities reside in large numbers. If it wants to show the people in the country and abroad that it is serious in protecting the rights of minorities, it must take steps to eliminate violence perpetrated in the name of religion and institute measures to alter the radical mindset of our society.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2014.