A report has been released by the Members of the European Parliament (MEP) on the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan. The report prepared by MEPs Alberto Cirio, Fulvio Martusciello, Ryszard Czarnecki, Indrek Tarand and Heinz K. Becker was released in Brussels on May 13, 2019. It is a fact and figures based report which attempts to throw light on the institutionalised discrimination and the atrocities faced by the religious minorities at the hands of the majority community in Pakistan.
The report claims that the percentage of minorities in Pakistan has reduced drastically from 23% to a minuscule 3.7% of the total population and it cites violence against minorities and forced conversions as possible reasons for this decline. The report states that discrimination towards religious minorities is embodied in the Constitution of Pakistan which declares Islam as the State religion of Pakistan. “Even though the clause goes on to provide that adequate provisions will be made for minorities to practice their religion, it still continues to subject the minorities to the principles of ‘of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam”, says the report.
It elaborates how the Constitution of Pakistan denies its minorities various rights by reserving them exclusively for the majority community. An example of this discrimination is embodied in Article 41(2) which reserves the right of becoming the President to Muslims only thus depriving the religious minorities the right to hold high positions in the government.
The education imparted in the schools of Pakistan is highly Islamicised and it teaches intolerance towards religious minorities, especially Hindus. The children belonging to the religious minorities are forced to study the Islamic religious texts as the reading of the Quran, the Jihad and the Shahadat path is compulsory in the schools of Pakistan, claims the report. The school curriculum does not make any reference to the contribution of the religious minorities and instead denigrates them.
Another example of institutionalised discrimination against religious minorities is the vague Blasphemy law of the country. Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code criminalises any act, spoken or written which defiles the name of prophet Mohammad. The offense is punishable by death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine. The law is misused to settle personal vendetta by leveling false accusations against the members of minority communities. An example of this is the infamous case a Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death and had to spend 9 years of his life in jail to be finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan due to lack of evidence. The Supreme Court decision was opposed nationwide and 3-day national level protests were held in the country.
The report says that desecration of the places of worship of the religious minorities is also common in the country. In some areas, minorities are made to pay a historically imposed annual tax paid by non-Muslims for residing on Muslims land.
One of the most serious problems that the minority communities face in Pakistan is the abduction, rape and forced conversion of the women of minority communities. Recently two minor Hindu girls were abducted, converted to Islam and married off. Even the court did not come to the rescue of the girls and ordered them to be sent back to their Muslim husbands.
The report claims that around 1000 girls from religious minorities are forcibly converted to Islam every year. The numbers might be higher as many cases are not even reported. The evidence provided by the cases compiled by Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), shows how minor Hindu and Christian girls disappear from their homes or workplaces and later resurface as converted and married women.
The report provides a pattern of how such cases are dealt with authorities, how it acts as a deterrence for the minority communities in filing cases. The local police are often biased in favour of the majority community. As soon as the incidents of abduction and rape become public, the abductors tend to marry off the victim in an attempt to clear the suspicion of sexual assault. This is often followed by abductors filing counter-complaints against the victim’s family of harassing the girl and conspiring to convert her back. If a case somehow reaches the court, the victim is required to testify whether she converted and married out of her own free will. Since in most cases, the victim remains in the custody of the abductor during the course of proceedings, she is forced to testify that she converted out of her own free will and the case is closed.
The report throws light on the religious philosophy underlining such incidents of forced conversions. It says that in Islam, it is considered as an achievement to convert a Hindu to Islam and one earns a blessing by doing so. This is the reason that such incidents of forced conversions have the backing of powerful shrines, seminaries, clerics and also local politicians. The money and the housing for the new Muslim converts are controlled by clerics.
Interestingly, the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan is conveniently ignored by the so-called liberals in India and the West alike. The very people who shout their lungs out for the Syrian refugees and the Rohingya Muslims go into hibernation when faced with the question of treatment of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries.