Thursday June 20, 2024

PPP — a minorities’ rights champion or simply an empty vessel making the most sound?

By Ebad Ahmed
April 11, 2016


March 25 - Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, while speaking at a gathering held in Umerkot during Holi celebrations, gives a power-packed message: “When a Muslim can be the president of India, why a member of a religious minority community can’t hold this post in Pakistan.”

His participation in the Holi celebrations and his words of support were appreciated and admired by progressive circles all over the country; but as the saying goes, “talk is cheap, actions are everything”, it is ironic to note that despite openly supporting the minorities, little or no substantive actions have been taken yet by the province’s ruling party on a number of resolutions passed by the provincial assembly in this connection.


Education curriculum

In view of the presence of hate content against minorities in textbooks, a resolution passed on Feb 24 called for a separate religious curriculum for Hindu and Christian students from Class 1 to Class 8.

When The News asked education and literacy secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechucho on the status of its progress, he replied that the curriculum review council headed by education minister Nisar Khuhro was thoroughly “looking into it” with all stakeholders on board.

However, the secretary added that he could not give a timeframe as to the process would be completed.

Despite several attempts, Khuhro could not be reached for comments.

Speaking to The News, former MPA and chairman of the Pakistan Minority Front Micheal Javed expressed his reservations over the initiative saying that though the idea behind it was appreciable, the way it has being handled was ludicrous.

“We have heard there have been one or two meetings on the education curriculum, but it’s surprising to note that they haven’t taken into confidence any mainstream Christian leader on the issue,” he added.

“Even if a separate religious curriculum is prepared, what is the point of it if the minorities are not comfortable with it?”


Five percent quota

Submitting a report to the Supreme Court on the recruitment of minority community members in the police department, the Sindh government had conceded that despite the constitutional requirement of five percent job quota for minorities, it had failed to implement it from 2010 to 2014. MPA and parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional Nand Kumar Goklani said the Sindh government had not only failed to ensure five percent quota in police, but in all government departments.

“The five percent job quota for minorities in the provincial government departments has not been implemented in its true spirit,” said Goklani.

“There are no official figures available in this connection and that’s a big problem,” he added.

Welfare committee

According to a notification number SO (G)/MA/2(04)/2012, the interim minister for minority affairs, Hasan Ali Shah, had formed a “Zimmi Welfare Committee” - later renamed “Provincial Non-Muslim Welfare Committee” comprising representatives of all minorities; Ravi Dawani, the general secretary of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts, Karachi Parsi Anjuman Trust chairman Bahram D Avari and Sardar Ramesh Singh of the Pakistan Sikh Council.

The committee was mandated to delegate Rs100 million for minorities’ welfare from the minority affairs department funds.

However, according to a copy available with The News, in another notification issued on December 10, 2013 number SO (G) MA/2(04)/2012, the committee was replaced by a 10-member committee mainly comprising lawmakers of the PPP.

Speaking to The News, Sardar Ramesh Singh said the committee formed by the caretaker minister was a good initiative as it took the minorities into confidence by giving their representatives the authority to delegate their funds.

“Minorities including Sikhs were satisfied by the initiative but as soon as the new minister took charge, the committee never held a meeting and after a year we were told that it has been replaced by an another committee,” he added.

“The new committee comprised upper class Hindus who have been selected on reserved seats, and giving them additional funds raises transparency questions.”   


Commissions and bills

The Sindh Assembly had referred private bills number eight and nine – the Sindh Minorities Rights Commission Bill, 2015 and the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill - to the standing committee on minority affairs with terms of reference.

Goklani, who had introduced the bill, said in its last meeting in February, 17 points of the Minorities Rights Commission Bill wee cleared by the committee. However, the meeting was deferred until April 6 because of the absence of minister Nisar Khuhro. It was again postponed till April 13 on the same grounds.

“I believe that the government is delaying important issues related to minorities, because it doesn’t want the opposition to claim credit,” he said.

“Sadly, issues like forced conversions and human rights abuses are being ignored simply over petty political insecurities”.

With an annual grant of Rs100 million and further Rs500 million from the Annual Development Programme, as informed by Secretary Minorities Ahmed Bakhsh Narejo, it appears to be a classic case of “empty vessels making the most sound”.