Monday September 25, 2023

If Faizabad rioters can be freed, why are Christian protesters still in jail?

December 13, 2017

In the three-week-long protest last month by an Islamic group in Islamabad, a lot of public and private properties were damaged, but the Punjab government freed all the rioters.

However, the same government has not yet released dozens of Youhanabad’s Christians who were arrested in March 2015 for protesting over suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore that had killed 15 worshippers and injured scores of others.

If non-Muslim communities have equal rights in Pakistan, why is the government not letting the innocent Christians out of jail? This scathing question was put forward by Susan Thomas, a Christian activist and a member of Karachi’s city council, at a meeting held on Tuesday.

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, an organsiation working for the rights of non-Muslims, organised a provincial consultation with representatives of political parties, civil society organisations and religious leaders to discuss pro-minorities’ policies and legislation.

Thomas, who is a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), also showed her concerns over the delay in the results of the national census of non-Muslim communities. “We want to know our population and their ratio in Pakistan because it will help us in getting our rights and funds.”

Pitanbar Sewani, a former-member of the Sindh Assembly, said considerable legislation had been done by the assembly, but it was never implemented properly. Discussing the bill passed in the Sindh Assembly last year criminalising forced religious conversions and subsequent forced marriages but returned for amendments after pressure came from religious parties, he said the bill would be tabled in the assembly’s next session.

“The bill was passed in the assembly within five minutes when all political parties, including the MQM-P, voted in favour of it. But later the MQM-P members raised some objections to it.” Sewani said that if the bill against forced conversions did not pass, the Hindus and other non-Muslim communities would boycott the upcoming polls.

Demanding the revival of the separate electorate system for the non-Muslim communities in the country, the former MPA said wealthy non-Muslim individuals bought tickets form political parties to become parliamentarians on reserved seats.

However, Kalpana Devi, a Hindu community leader, supported the joint electorate system and said it had renewed confidence in the minority communities, which felt that their return to the mainstream of the national political life would lend them a lever to influence matters of state. “From Shadakot and Jacobabad, a movement for the restoration of joint electorate was started and its restoration has helped the non-Muslim communities in mainstreaming themselves,” she opined.

Other speakers, including Kailash Sarhadi, Saleem Michael and Zahid Farooq, underlined the need for ensuring the rights of minorities through legislation and said non-Muslim communities suffered because of a lack of family laws. Other issues regarding minorities’ rights, especially hate content in the syllabuses, also came under discussion.