Panel discussion calls for protecting rights of religious minorities

LAHORE: Rights activists and elected representatives have stressed the need for addressing issues relating to religious freedoms and fundamental rights of minorities through carrying out educational reforms, abolishing persecution, protecting existing and providing more burial places to minorities and ensuring the rule of law in Pakistan. 
They expressed these views at a panel discussion titled ‘Religious Freedoms and Minority Rights’ organised by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) and REAT Network at a hotel on Wednesday. Besides rights activists, 16 members of the Punjab Assembly (MPAs) from the PML-N, PTI and PPP participated in this discussion. 
The speakers emphasised the need for establishing powerful and independent minority rights commissions at federal and provincial levels to help protect and promote rights of religious minorities besides framing and implementing their family laws.
Speaking on the occasion, IA Rehman, noted rights activist and a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said that there was a need to promote the concept that problems and issues of minorities were the problems and issues of majority. 
No justice for minorities would result into any injustice to majority; he said, adding that ongoing persecution of minorities would ultimately lead towards the abolition of other sects of majority group.
He said that it was very unfortunate that religious minorities were discriminated against in education, even their fixed quotas were ignored, their educational institutions were not returned to them and over all there was a complete uncertainty and fear among them due to the absence of rule of law. Worship places of minorities were not protected whereas the role of state and non-state actors was not fair at all, he added.
He said that the role of political parties concerning minorities was opposite to what is said in their manifestoes while the level of tolerance in society was at the lowest level. 
Moreover, he said, the wave of religious extremism was further tightening the noose around the neck of minorities. He said that four bills relating to minorities were in doldrums after being tabled in the National Assembly.
The Christian’s Divorce Act was a very old piece of legislation whereas Hindu family laws did not exist, he said, adding that graveyards of minorities have disappeared. 
He urged taking affirmative and demonstrative actions to grant religious minorities their due status through educational reforms, stopping forced marriages and conversions and promoting tolerance among people. They should be given liberty to ask questions than to snub them in different manners, he added.
Minority MPAs Ramesh Sing Arora, Kanji Ram and Mary Gill urged carrying out reforms in education system and curriculum to let people know how minorities were living in Pakistan had struggled for the creation of Pakistan and were contributing to the economy and development of the country. 
They demanded provision of cremation places for Hindus, removal of hate material from books and protection of worship places. They also demanded establishment of a powerful and independent minority rights commission with complete infrastructure so that it could help resolve issues concerning minorities. 
MPAs Faiza Ahmed Malik, Dr Najma Afzal, Sadia Sohail Rana and others also voiced for educational reforms, provision of cremation places and protection of religious places, properties and lives of minorities besides supporting the demand for establishment of a minority rights commissions at the federal and provincial levels to protect and promote their rights.                       SAP-PK National Coordinator Hameed Gondal shed light on how his organisation was voicing for the protection and promotion of minorities’ rights and that how national and international guarantees such as the Constitution of Pakistan and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protected religious freedoms and other fundamental rights such as the right to expression, association, assembly and thought without any discrimination of religion, cast and creed.

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