Through numerous incidents of killings, abductions, forced conversions, enforced disappearances, blasphemy charges, and the destruction of places of worship, the state fails to offer protection and security to its minorities
Pakistan is home to several minority groups which strive for and struggle to live in a country whose people continually persecute them and subject them to varying forms of violence. Through numerous killings, abductions, forced conversions, enforced disappearances, blasphemy charges and the destruction of places of worship, the state fails to offer protection and security to its minorities.
Although Muslims comprise an overwhelming majority of the Pakistani population, that does not diminish the existence of the various ethnic and religious minorities that reside in Pakistan. On account of their differing religious beliefs and cultures, these minority groups have always been the target of discrimination. The Shia, despite belonging to the Muslim majority of the country’s population, are heavily discriminated against and frequently labelled as kafir or non-Muslim due to the nuances in their way of practicing the Muslim faith.
In spite of the state narrative remaining firm in its belief that all instances of sectarian, ethnic, and religious violence are the product of internationally sponsored terrorism, the fact remains that the Pakistani authorities fail to offer the protection that its citizens are entitled to, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds or religious beliefs. Even if rumors and hearsay regarding enemy states funding terrorist factions to carry out attacks are to be believed, that does not eradicate the fact that these terrorist factions possess the power to freely operate in Pakistani and are living on Pakistani soil undetected and with the liberty to conduct terrorist activities.
The constitution grants all citizens the freedom to practice their individual religious beliefs. Where the state authorities fail is in the process of safeguarding this particular tenet. Police officials, who are meant to be enforcers of the law, are often found to be mere bystanders in incidents of beatings and lynching. And in cases where the law and its enforcers do intervene, the justice system falls short in delivering relief to the minority groups who have suffered injustices and endured violence.
Over the years, there have been innumerable cases of people belonging to the Christian faith being falsely accused of blasphemy, imprisoned for long periods of time without a fair and legal trial and even killed. With regards to this, the most widely-known case is that of Asia Bibi who was charged with having committed blasphemy. It was only nine years later that the Supreme Court overturned the earlier verdict and allowed Asia Bibi to walk free. The fact that this landmark ruling in a blasphemy case caused such an uproar in the country, whereby people came out on the streets to protest and demand that Asia Bibi be punished for her crimes, shows how deeply-rooted the intolerance and hatred for minorities is in this country.
In addition to the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws and Christians being murdered for having, allegedly, committed blasphemy, recent decades have also seen an escalation in sectarian violence, which has been bolstered by anti-Shia sentiment among a segment of the general public. Not only are they hated and discriminated against, they live in constant fear for their lives as anyone can declare them a non-Muslim and use that as an excuse to wage violence against them. With the recent abduction and killing of Hazara coal miners, it is becoming clear that the attitude of intolerance for anyone with different religious beliefs —even when the difference is slight— is becoming more and more prevalent.
It seems that with every step forward, Pakistan takes two steps backwards in creating a safe environment for the minority groups living within its borders. The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims and the allowance made for Hindu pilgrims to visit the Katas Raj Temples were seen as sings of good faith and the government making an effort to make minorities feel like they belonged. However, these two public displays of acceptance are not enough and the Pakistani government needs to take initiatives to combat the intolerance and violence that have become so rampant in the country and put in place effective mechanisms for the protection of minority groups against the various forms of persecution and violence they are subjected to.
The writer is a graduate of LUMS and can be reached on Instagram at sanateewrites_