Sindh caretaker chief minister Justice (retd) Maqbool Baqar on Tuesday said that no citizen should feel like a minority in their own country merely because they subscribe to a religion that is different from the one a country’s majority subscribes to.
Baqar was speaking at a conference on the rights of religious minorities that was held at the Arts Council, which conducted the event with the Sindh Minorities Affairs Department.
“I believe that weaponising laws meant to protect religion, and patronising radicalism have sown the seeds of bigotry and parochialism,” he said, adding that he has always believed that confronting uncomfortable truths, and introspection are the keys to a better future.
He pointed out that conferences like these have another crucial function: “They reiterate our commitment to upholding the rights of non-Muslim citizens, particularly their right to freely profess, practice and propagate their faith.”
The interim CM said: “Today fundamental rights and civil liberties are in jeopardy throughout the world as right-wing regimes attempt to further marginalise vulnerable communities.”
He lamented that India’s Supreme Court has validated the regime’s decision to build a temple on the site of Babri Masjid. “At the same time, despite pressure from radical elements, courts throughout Pakistan have done well to uphold religious liberties, often at the peril of violence from such radical groups.”
He said that in the year 2014 the Supreme Court of Pakistan had taken suo motu cognisance of a horrific attack carried out on a church in Peshawar.
While laying down clear directions for the protection of religious sites, the SC said: “We are all members of one race of humans with common challenges, and we cannot confront these challenges without forging a common alliance.
“This paradigm shift in the world around us can be achieved at the international and domestic levels only by discouraging sectarian, racial and ethnic biases which are negating shared values and fundamental rights, and by the promotion of and strict compliance with these values and rights.”
Baqar said that in more recent years, they have seen two more progressive judgments from the SC. Quoting Tahir Naqash’s case, he said the SC acknowledged Ahmadis’ rights to practise and propagate their faith, and in Salamat Mansha’s case the SC granted bail to a person accused of offences against religion.
He also said that in Salamat Mansha’s case the SC highlighted how serious allegations are often levelled against minorities to settle personal scores, and the tendency of violent mobs to pronounce judgments before courts have declared a person guilty.
“The significance of these judgments, however, exceeds their jurisprudential value,” he said, adding that their significance was underscored by the court refusing to be swayed by the prevailing winds of extremism, and that judgments like these are also significant in assuring citizens that their rights do not rest on tenuous footings.
Baqar said the government has often failed to protect non-Muslim citizens. “I consciously choose not to use the word minority because I believe no citizen should feel like a minority in their own country merely because they subscribe to a religion that is different from the one subscribed to by a country’s majority.”
He said extremism and bigotry have seeped across large segments of the population. Just as the state’s active role in patronising radical groups has contributed to extremism, concerted efforts towards eliminating such groups and forging alliances with progressive elements will allow us to reverse the tide of violent extremism, he added.
The caretaker CM said that as a signatory to international conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we must take concrete steps towards broadening the frontiers of religious freedom. “The journey ahead may seem arduous, but all monumental journeys begin with a single step.”
He added that we must work for a pluralistic, democratic and progressive Pakistan, where none of us is a minority, where our religious beliefs do not inhibit the opportunities we get. “I believe that without pluralism and diversity, peace and prosperity shall elude us.”
Interim information and minorities affairs minister Ahmed Shah made the assurance that the financial resources reserved by the provincial government for the welfare and development of the religious minorities would be spent with complete honesty and transparency.
Shah said that two instalments of the funds reserved for the minorities have been released by the government in the current fiscal year, while the third instalment is about to be released.
He said the government has offered special scholarships for education, and extended financial grants for marriages and healthcare needs of the families belonging to the minorities.
He expressed his resolve to strive hard to ensure that the minorities get all their constitutional rights on an equal basis like the majority population in the country.
He called for extending insurance coverage to the sanitary staff belonging to the minorities. He said that every citizen of Pakistan has an equal right to the national resources irrespective of their religious affiliation.
He also said the government has duly implemented the recommendations of the commission appointed by the judiciary for the protection of the rights of the minorities.
Dr Shoaib Suddle, a retired senior police officer and chairman of the SC-appointed commission on minorities, suggested forming a special police force for properly protecting the worship places of the minorities. He also suggested forming a national council for the protection of the rights of the minorities.
Dr Suddle said that being the chairman of the SC-appointed commission, he had been seeking reports from every province on the protection of the rights of the minorities.
Earlier, in his welcome remarks, Minorities Affairs Secretary Akram Ali Khawaja said that the basic aim of organising the conference was to promote the cause of protecting the religious minorities in the country.
Khawaja said that protecting the members of the religious minorities would go a long way in ensuring peace in the country. He expressed gratitude to Baqar and representatives of the minorities for sparing their time to attend the conference.
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