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Karachi

February 15, 2018

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Call to improve minority representation in electoral, political processes

Stressing the need to improve representation of religious minorities in the electoral and political process, representatives of various political parties and civil society members have called for the formation of a commission to investigate the atrocities, including forced conversions, religious minorities are being subjected to across the country.

The call was echoed on Wednesday at a seminar organised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) in collaboration of Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and Sindh Social Welfare Department to discuss ways to enable the participation of minorities in politics and the electoral process.

SPARC National Manager Kashif Bajeer said that over the course of many years, the organisation has identified some significant issues that need to be addressed to amplify the political voice of minority communities. “Firstly, the real problem lies at the policy level where the country’s top leadership remains unreceptive to the problems of minority religious communities and has done little to provide them legal protection,” he said. “Secondly, legal identity, especially for the uneducated minority groups, remains a challenge.”

A large percentage of Pakistan’s population lacks the country’s core legal identity document, a CNIC issued by NADRA, Bajeer said. Access to resources, social services and economic opportunities are all linked to proof of legal identity, he added.

Speaking about the reports of Hindu women being kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, mostly in interior Sindh, he said elected representatives must take serious steps to address this problem. “The situation really needs legislation,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Shamim Mumtaz, adviser to the CM on social welfare, said the Pakistan Peoples Party has always raised the voice of minorities and marginalised communities of Pakistan and made important legislation for their rights. “From Zulifqar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto and now Bilawal Bhutto, PPP has remained the champion and defender of minorities’ rights,” she said.

Referring to the nomination of two minority PPP activists for Senate seats, she said her party has nominated Krishna Kolhi, who belongs to remote area of Thar, and Anwar Lal Dean, a noted Christian activist, setting a precedent of empowering women and lower-middle class people from minority communities by sending them to the upper house of the Parliament.

Dean, who has submitted his papers for a Senate reserved seat from the PPP, said that party has struggled for the rights of religious minorities and is committed to curbing all kinds of discrimination against them. He claimed that for the first time in the history of Pakistan, it was the PPP government which had announced holidays for minority community employees in Sindh on their religious festivals and given them salaries in advance.

Anisa Waliullah, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Sindh’s Joint Secretary, said the government needs to take concrete measures to ensure the rights of minorities are safeguarded. “Parliamentarians and the civil society need to work together for this,” she said.

Representatives of the Community Action Group, a minority rights body working in Chamber and Jhando Mari areas in Tando Allahyar district pointed that although the Sindh government had introduced minority-friendly laws, including Hindu Marriages Bill and Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, the people from these communities remain unaware about them and therefore they need to be educated on the laws in place to protect their rights.

The seminar participants unanimously passed a resolution demanding dual rights for voting and for proper legislation for the protection of life, property and sacred places for minority communities.

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