close
Friday July 19, 2024

Minorities constantly fear for their security and survival, says study

By Zia Ur Rehman
March 28, 2022

Highlighting the psychological and socioeconomic impact of hate speech on religious and sectarian minorities in Sindh, a study published recently claims that there is a constant fear among minority communities regarding their security and survival.

The National Commission for Justice & Peace (NCJP), a mandated body of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, carried out the study, titled ‘Hate Speech: A Subtle Discrimination! Trends of Religious Hate Speech in Sindh’, which was launched at an event at a hotel in Karachi.

The NCJP conducted focus group discussions with Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Shia and Ahmadi communities to observe and record the trends of hate speech with each community in Karachi, Hyderabad and Nagarparkar to have a clearer understanding of hate speech implications on daily lives.

“This evidence-based document serves as a tool to recognise the ignored hate speech and also examines the detrimental effects of hate speech on society,” reads the study’s methodology section.

Mental health

The study states in its findings that hate speech is accepted as a norm in Pakistan, and one of its immediate effects is that people experience a loss of self-esteem.

“Experiencing hate speech on a daily basis for a longer period of time results in persistent stress on victims, which adversely affects their productivity in all walks of life, especially education, workplace performance and social spaces,” finds the study. “With an increasing sense of inferiority in victims, they tend to isolate themselves, which further leads only towards the worsening of their mental health,” it points out.

Name-calling

Women are prone to hate speech in public areas, as being women in a male-dominant society makes them already vulnerable based on their gender, notes the study. “Women belonging to religious minorities are recognised easily in public due to their traditional attire; for instance, Hindu women in Sindh usually wear Ghagra Choli, which is their traditional dress.”

Calling names is generally observed in markets, and especially indecent names based on religious identity. However, men are also victims of religious hate speech in public spaces, but the frequency is far less, as it is highly difficult to differentiate a man based on his attire, states the study.

Discrimination

The study notes that discrimination is also practised in medical institutions, where medical assistance is denied to members of religious minorities solely due to their faith or belief, and no one is held accountable for such human rights violations.

Polarisation

When hate speech becomes prevalent in a local area with a few households of religious minorities, families feel vulnerable and relocate to areas with a considerable population of religious minorities, observes the study.

However, this phenomenon is practised to ensure safety and security, but even the religious minority settlements are not safe, as they are at risk of mob attacks, which are now occurring frequently on Hindu settlements in rural areas. And mob attacks are a result of direct hate speeches, it notes.

“Not only mob attacks but the establishment of religion-specific settlements is also a threat to harmony. As this phenomenon creates a communication gap between religious communities, which then leads to assumptions and misconceptions about the communities,” states the study.

Religion-specific settlements are neglected when countrywide development projects are implemented, highlighting the systematic discrimination and hatred, it points out.

Hindrances

When monitoring hate speech trends, one of the highlighted observations is that religious minority communities are lagging in economic growth due to continuously disturbed mental health, deliberate efforts against their promotions, the high dropout rate of minority students from educational institutes, lack of security and neglect by the country’s decision-makers.

Religious minorities are channelled into economical lag through various methodical measures such as state-run departments running adverts in national newspapers that they only require someone from minority communities to fill vacancies of janitorial staff, notes the study.

Another example is that people from religious minorities are highly discouraged to start a food business because they are considered intrinsically unclean, it states.

“In addition, areas with minorities’ population have been observed to have municipal issues, with deliberate ignorance from the authorities; for example, roads’ construction is denied and drainage issues not addressed.”

One prominent example of hindrance in collective development is Tharparkar, which is a remote and rural district of Sindh. It has a high volume of Hindu population, and similar areas with mostly Hindu population, neglected by the government with regards to development.

“Basic amenities such as water pumps are installed by a handful of development-based organisations, despite being a continually drought-stricken area.”

Recommendations

The study demands that the state introduce monitoring, regulation and standardisation mechanisms for religious sermons, speeches and seminary curriculum, and enact a comprehensive policy on equality and non-discrimination.

It also demands introducing administrative mechanisms against discrimination, curbing hate speech and hate crimes, ensuring effective redressal for victims, independent and impartial investigation of any incident of incitement to hatred, hostility or violence, and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The study demands criminalisation of forced conversion in Sindh, and asks political parties to pass the piece of legislation that was attempted in November 2016 in the provincial assembly but succumbed due to religious parties’ pressure.

It also demands setting the legally valid age for marriage at 18 years across Pakistan for both boys and girls, and asks senior civil judges to ascertain the presence of free will, consent, the factual accuracy of age and the marital status of the parties involved.