Monday November 29, 2021

Divided society

October 16, 2021

The lines of divide that run through Pakistan are disturbing. These lines were shown up during the meeting of the parliamentary committee on forced conversions, which met on Thursday and after a two-hour long debate, rejected a bill which was intended to prevent the forced conversion of minorities. The rejection came on the basis of advice from the religious affairs ministry, which suggested that this was not an appropriate time for the law to be passed. We wonder what an 'appropriate' time would be to protect the thousands of persons, notably young girls from the Hindu community, who have been forced to change their religion, often through marriage with Muslim men.

The rejection of the law has, for obvious reasons, been vehemently condemned by minority legislators including those from the PTI who had tabled it in the first place. Minority communities ask when the time will come for minorities to obtain the rights that we in Pakistan demand in other nations. If we have any right to protest the treatment of Muslims in Europe, or other parts of the West and elsewhere, then we must ensure safety for our own minority groups, as indeed was laid down firmly by the founder of the nation.

It is even more alarming that the minister for parliamentary affairs says he was warned not to go through the change at this moment, as it would hurt Muslims and hurt Islam. It is difficult to see how. A main barrier appears to have been the provision laid down in the law that only persons over 18 can change their religion. It is difficult to say why this is a problem. After all, changing religion is a serious matter. There is already a law of 18 years in place for marriage, for obtaining a driving licence and for other activities. There seems to be no logical reason why it should not exist for a change in religion, or why the requirement that a person who wishes to change his or her religion should lay down the details with an additional sessions judge and be given 90 days to determine a decision in the matter. The decision of the parliamentary committee on the rejection of the law, which had been backed by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, among others, simply pushes Pakistan back into a darker place. It shows just what kind of nation we are becoming, and how willing we are to make judgments on others, while refusing to accept the basic constitutional rights of those who live amongst us, and who should be free to use their rights just like every citizen of the country regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, or any other matter.