Religious discrimination of minorities in Pakistan

Dr Ravinder Singh Rana
Non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are treated as separate and unequal citizens in a form of religious apartheid. The Constitution and laws of the land are overwhelmingly preferential to Islam, the State Religion, and Muslims. Systematic exclusion of Hindus and other minorities ranges from humiliations such that a non-Muslim lawyer cannot appear before Federal Shariat Court to Constitutional provisions that the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan must be Muslims. Religious extremism and fanaticism sponsored by the State that disenfranchise its own minority populations have engendered fringe factions that endanger the wellbeing and lives of minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians. Alleged blasphemy of the Prophet Mohammad carries a mandatory death sentence. Most of these cases are either false accusations or pursuits of personal vendettas-a tool of repression often used against Hindus and other minorities. Several of the judges in the High Courts, as for example, Justice Akhter of the Lahore High Court, are advocating that it is the duty of a Muslim to silence the voice of a blasphemer. (i) A report recently published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad, notes: “Four primary themes that emerge most strongly as constituting the bulk of the curricula and textbooks…are that Pakistan is for Muslims alone; Islamiat is to be forcibly taught to all the students, whatever their faith, including compulsory reading of Qu’ran; the ideology of Pakistan (sic) is to be internalised as faith, and hate be created against Hindus and India; and students are to be urged to take the path of Jehad and Shahadat.” Further, “Associated with the insistence on the Ideology of Pakistan has been an essential component of hate against India and the Hindus…” (ii) Many of the approximately 2 million Hindus in Pakistan are compelled to pay regular sums, as a type of ransom, to extortionists and local leaders in exchange for the physical security of their families and themselves. (iii) It is conventional wisdom that no job higher than a clerk’s post may be obtained by a Hindu.
Furthermore, Hindus usually need a Muslim as a silent partner in order to run a business. Many Hindu temples have been desecrated, destroyed, or converted into government offices in Pakistan. In 1992 alone, hundreds of Hindu temples were destroyed in Pakistan in response to communal riots in India, in which Pakistani Hindus played no role. Despite official promises to rebuild these temples, in many cases, little or no action has been taken to redress the situation. Illegal encroachments on Hindu temples and lands, molestation and abduction of Hindu girls, demanding of huge ransoms in kidnap cases, and frequent arrests of Hindus on false charges have become commonplace in Pakistan. The plight of Hindus in Pakistan is nowhere more evident than in the fact that the population of Hindus in 1947, at the time of Partition, was estimated to be anywhere from 15 to 24 percent. There is no authoritative claim on these numbers. In 1998 the Hindu population in Pakistan was 1.60 percent. (iv) Where and how have these Hindus disappeared. School textbooks represent the political perspectives and national ideologies of whole edu­cational and government systems. As such, school textbooks are one of the most important indicators of official and popular perspectives of the cultural and political communities they depict both in words and images. The major findings of this report are that the content of Pakistani public school textbooks related to non-Islamic faiths and non-Muslims continue to teach bias, distrust, and inferiority. Moreover, the textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies: Pakistani Christians as Westerners or equal to British colonial oppressors, and Pakistani Hindus as Indians, the arch enemy of Pakistan. These perceptions predispose students early on that the non-Muslim population of Pakistan are outsiders and unpatriotic.
These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant. These messages are reinforced by the absence of deeper content addressing the complexity of religions, the rights of religious minorities, and the positive contributions of religious minorities in the development and protection of Pakistan. Outright errors about minority faiths and cultures are a major problem. Another significant issue is the inclusion of widely-disputed historical “facts” presented as settled history. Consider this quote found on page 23 of the tenth grade Urdu textbook: “Because the Muslim religion, cul­ture and social system are different from non-Muslims, it is impossible to cooperate with Hindus.” This kind of education closes all doors for a new generation of Pakistani Muslims to see a peace­ful future with Hindus of India, and worse yet, it provides a rationale to treat Pakistani Hindus as outsiders. In contrast, it ignores how Hindus and Muslims have cooperated and coexisted peacefully for centuries in the sub-continent. Another quote from the Sindh province seventh grade Urdu textbook mixes facts and con­spiracies, portraying Hindus and Christians as partners to destroy Muslims. Shahid Afridi’s hate for India and Hindu’s is a well established one.
The Pakistani skipper has on several occasions in Pakistani cricketer and former captain of the Pakistan national cricket team Shahid Afridi had once revealed how he had smashed his television set at home when he saw one of his children enacting an ‘aarti’ scene while watching an India drama serial. The past ranted against Indian culture, its people, cricket team and the media. Talking on a chat show hosted by one Nida Yasir, on a Pakistani TV channel, the cricketer brazenly, taking pride in what he did, said he lost his temper when he found one of his children watching a Hindu ritual being shown on the Indian channel Star Plus, and smashed the TV set.
While the interviewer looks delighted on listening to Afridi’s anti-Hindu rants, the Pakistani audience can also be seen applauding the cricketer for his defiance against Hindu rituals and customs. Former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar had revealed during a chat show that Danish Kaneria was treated unfairly by his Pakistani teammates because he was a Hindu and even barred the spinner from picking up food from the same table as others because of his faith. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to fast-track citizenship for persecuted minority groups in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The six minority groups that have been specifically identified are Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis. This is the reason why this amendment bill is important as minorities are fighting for their survival in neighbouring countries.
(The author is Assistant Professor in J&K Higher Education)