Religious Minorities Under Attack in Pakistan
BY: Masuda Mahazabin
One would think that a global pandemic would be a sign for all of humanity to unite and work towards protecting and standing up for one another yet examples of discrimination around the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic are on the rise. For instance, religious discrimination is a serious human rights issue in Pakistan. Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Shias and the Ahmadis are subjected to rampant discrimination and violence. There has been an increase in religion-oriented hate crimes as well as denial in humanitarian relief in Pakistan during the ongoing pandemic.
The origins of Pakistan’s minority exploitation goes back to the year 1947 when an undivided India was partitioned. Pakistan’s founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah claimed that all of its citizens would be free to practice the faith of their choice. Yet this notion was nullified when the constitution and other laws of the country began to take place and obtain a distinctly discriminatory approach. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan proclaims a right to religious freedom in Article 20, but because that right is subjected to “law, public order and morality,” making this proclamation deceiving. Furthermore, Article 31 mandates that the government must strive to foster the Islamic way of life. There are several other provisions that have also been criticized as religiously bigoted.
The blasphemy laws, in particular, have posed the greatest threat to minorities. They criminalize acts that are perceived to insult Islam and can easily be used as a tool for religious exploitation. Penalties for blasphemy and other offences against Islam range from a fine to the death sentence. The blasphemy laws are often abused to exploit minorities and make them vulnerable to mob violence and hate crimes.
The societal prejudice towards minorities in Pakistan has left these communities subjected to constant discrimination yet it has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a press release from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), it has been reported that coronavirus-related rations were denied to Hindu and Christian minorities in the coastal areas of Karachi. The Saylani Welfare Trust, the charity that was responsible for giving out the rations, claimed that the aid was only reserved for those who were Muslims. In addition to this, Christians make up the majority of frontline health workers and they are at a high risk of contracting the virus because they are not given the proper personal protective equipment. On top of that, their wages are being delayed and are constantly being kept away from their families.
Minorities are constantly denied the most basic freedoms and entitlements such as marriage, divorce, working in legislative assemblies, travelling abroad, owning land or even buying property, oftentimes they are verbally and/or physically attacked for even trying to partake in such activities. For instance, A Pakistani Christian man named Nadeem Joseph was attacked by his neighbour for buying a house in a Muslim neighbourhood. Once he was admitted to the hospital he succumbed to his injuries and died on June 29th. Joseph’s death elicited a response on social media, yet the Pakastani government and law enforcement failed to hold the main offender accountable.
It is clear that Pakistan has an infamous and well-documented history of disrespecting the rights of religious minorities and enabling their rampant persecutions. The societal prejudices are being supported by the nation’s biased legal system to put its minorities in the most unjust conditions. Pakistan's government should be working towards prioritizing the health and well being of all of its citizens during this time.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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