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March 10, 2019

Call for curricular reforms, body for minority rights


March 10, 2019

LAHORE : Speakers at a symposium organised by two NGOs urged the implementation of the court directives about protection of minorities; reformation of curriculum for fostering tolerance and setting up commission for minorities’ rights, etc.

Addressing the event, Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine stated that Punjab government was introducing a package for minorities’ empowerment, encompassing minority quota in higher education, remission in punishment for religious education and religious education in educational institutions according to their conviction.

MNA Shunila Ruth reiterated the government’s commitment to zero tolerance against discrimination and hate speech, and of making sincere efforts for turning PTI’s promises into action regarding protection and empowerment of minorities.

She stated all children must have right to study their own religion in educational institutions.

Peter Jacob emphasised that the institutional protection for minorities would reduce human rights violations and would help improve relations between different faith groups. He said that judgment given by the Supreme Court in 2014 was a pathway to tolerance and social harmony. Jacob stated, “It is discouraging that the policy documents issued by the federal and Punjab governments on education (National Education Policy Framework 2018, and Punjab Education Policy, New Deal 2019) do not pledge to curb religious discrimination and intolerance as directed by the apex court. The policy documents should pay due regard to the fundamental rights concerning religious freedom, non-discrimination and equality as enshrined in Articles 20, 22 & 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan.”

Prof Dr Tahir Kamran stressed the need for liberating education from the shackles of political considerations. He stated education was the reflection of culture, civilization, and history of a society. Therefore, the curricula should build a connection with history and culture. He stated the education standards had suffered immense loss due to state interference in the academic freedom, lack of attention on existential issues and disconnect of education with culture.

Justice (r) Nasira Javed Iqbal said that establishing an independent statutory commission for minorities’ rights with adequate powers and autonomy was necessary. The government should introduce legislation to establish a commission in accordance with UN Paris Principles for Human Rights Institutions. Pakistan came into being with joint efforts made by minorities of the subcontinent. The minorities face discrimination and hostility in Pakistan because of the state’s deviation from the ideals of Quaid-e-Azam, and his vision for a spiritual democratic state, tolerant society and equality of rights, she said.

Prof Dr Kalyan Singh said the progress by the government on the court’s directions would strengthen respect for human rights and rule of law in Pakistan. He stated minority students had to study 10 religions in the subject of ethics, which was not a viable option. The government must devise and approve rule of business for effective implementation of marriage laws for Sikh and Hindu communities, he added.

Punjab Curriculum and Textbooks Board Director Dr Tahir Mehmood reiterated the commitment to delete any content that promoted hatred and was harmful for making peaceful coexistence possible.

George Clement stated the government and civil society should join hands to draft comprehensive bill, and address the challenges in establishment of commission for minority rights.

The participants deliberated upon the recommendations for establishing a statutory, autonomous and efficient commission for minorities’ rights. Civil society activists and religious communities resolved to engage for implementation of the Supreme Court orders with the federal and provincial governments.

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