Shrinking Space for Minorities

While the Egyptian scenario reflects a society embracing religious minorities as equal citizens in the post-revolution era, the Pakistani scene, unfortunately, mirrors a shrinking space for minorities day by day dumping them as second class citizens.

Image, Courtesy Viewpoint Online.


The other day, while going through my daily reading quota, I came across two different narratives related to two contemporary Muslim societies on a single theme of how they treat their religious minorities, one in the Middle East and the other in South Asia.

Here are these two narratives:

Narrative one:

On occasion, Muslim and Christians linked arms to protect Cairo’s historic synagogue. The protestors even adopted an interlocking crescent and cross as their symbol of a new Egypt. Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which tracks sectarian strife, says that “during the revolution the moral threshold shifted.” (Bruce Feiler, Time, June 20, 2011.)

Narrative two:

Sadly, the situation for Christians in Pakistan has become increasingly difficult in recent years. They are on the frontline of the persecution and violence against minority communities. From interviews conducted with Christians from a variety of professions and ages, it is clear that many feel they are treated as second-class citizens and discriminated against in all aspects of life. (A Question of Faith, Jinnah Institute Research Report, 2011.)

These are two paradoxical narratives, one from Egypt after the youth revolution where interfaith harmony is on the rise, and one from Pakistan where believers of minority religions live in a constant state of fear, degradation and humiliation.

The Egyptian narrative indicates a society where Christians and Muslims struggled side by side as equal citizens against a dictatorial regime and succeeded. It was not an easy ride for them, however, to get to this point. A group of Muslims attacked a church and gutted it down killing several Christians which prompted a demonstration of unity between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

Bruce Feiler, in his article “The Crescent and the Cross” published in the weekly Time magazine exemplifies Egypt as a symbol of Christian-Muslim unity in the aftermath of the youth revolution to the extent that even the conservative Muslim party, Muslim Brotherhood, has joined hands with the movement citing Christians as equal partners in the struggle for democracy and equality for all citizens.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is in the grip of militant and violent groups who do not even represent the majority. The recent report of the Jinnah Institute “A Question of Faith” analyzes legal, social, cultural and state mechanisms that support the ongoing terrorism against religious minorities, specifically, Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis.

Although there are other religious minorities who are also victims of violence including the large Shia population, Buddhists, Zikris, Bahais, and Sikhs, these three are the most affected groups being targeted consistently for discrimination, stereotyping and violence. As it appears, extremists through their violent tactics have taken the whole society hostage.

Even without citing the data on the population of religious minorities, incidents of violence against them, severity of discrimination in workplace and daily life and demographic details, the report brings out critical testimonies of violence against religious minorities through individual interviews as a research methodology.

Here are some of the violent incidents cited by the report against the three religious groups in the country during the last few years:

  • In 2009 eight Christians were burnt alive in Gojra, Punjab and their homes were razed
  • In 2010 a Christian worker Aasia Bibi sentenced to death for blasphemy
  • In 2011, the federal minister for minorities Shehbaz Bhatti was gunned down for his courageous stand against violence and support for minorities
  • In 2011, the Punjab Governor Salman Tasir was gunned down for supporting Aasia Bibi
  • In 2011 a 16 year old Christian boy was abducted raped and killed by a police constable in Karachi
  • A young Hindu farmworker was brutally killed by a Sindhi landlord accusing him of stealing his cotton crop
  • In 1992 an angry Muslim mob attacked and destroyed a Hindu temple in Sindh after the Babri Mosque incident in India
  • In 2008 two prominent Ahmadis were killed after a popular TV Talk show anchor religiously justified murdering Ahmadis
  • In 2010 armed gunmen attacked two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore and killed 96 people.

Unfortunately, only a few culprits of these heinous crimes were apprehended and tried in the court of law. On the other hand, families of victims were intimated and most of them withdrew their cases.

The report recommends measures to the government to change the public attitude toward minority religions. These include reviving the National Commission on Minorities, appointing the special ombudsmen on women and minorities and most importantly, launching comprehensive media campaigns to shatter negative stereotypes and hatred against minorities.

The report demands effective training programs for opinion leaders, religious gurus, media personnel, government officials and members of the judiciary who tend to incite people to commit these crimes against minorities.

Besides these important recommendations the report also identifies long term measures to change the individual mindset and stereotypes about religious minorities. It calls for transforming the school curriculum at primary and secondary levels by “producing and disseminating educational materials and textbooks that promote equality and respect for diversity.”

The PPP government has accepted the infamous blasphemy law audaciously refusing to repeal it. The report recommends considering amendments and making changes in the law if the so-called progressive party in power has no tenacity to repeal it.

Although incidents of violence against religious minorities have become a daily affair in Pakistan, a more frustrating and dangerous trend, however, remains the insensitivity and cowardice of the state apparatus that has shamelessly allowed the ongoing intolerance in the society as an accepted norm.

While the Egyptian scenario reflects a society embracing religious minorities as equal citizens in the post-revolution era, the Pakistani scene, unfortunately, mirrors a shrinking space for minorities day by day dumping them as second class citizens.

(From Viewpoint Online)

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