Minority matters

One year after a landmark Supreme Court judgment asking the government to protect religious minorities, there has been little progress on its implementation

Minority matters
One year ago, on June 19, 2014, former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani gave a landmark judgment asking the government to protect the rights of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

He ordered the government to implement seven steps:

1. Constitute a task force at a federal level to develop a strategy for promoting religious tolerance

2. Develop appropriate curricula for primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education that promote religious harmony and tolerance

3. Curb hate speech in social media

4. Constitute a national council for minorities

5. Establish a special police force to protect the worship places of minorities

6. Enforce the 5 percent minority quota in government jobs

7. Prompt action, including registration of a criminal case, whenever constitutional rights of religious minorities are violated or their worship places are desecrated

The judgment also bound the Supreme Court to continuously pursue the implementation of the judgment by saying that “the office shall open a separate file to be placed before a three member bench” to ensure that “this judgment is given effect to in letter and spirit”, and that it may also “entertain complaints/petitions relatable to violation of fundamental rights of minorities in the country.”

The National Action Plan devised after the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar addressed the protection of religious minorities without taking into consideration this judgment. One year later, the federal government has not taken any measures to constitute a “task force” to deal with religious intolerance.

According to the Express Tribune, the Punjab higher education department informed the SC bench hearing under this case last December that a committee had been constituted that had given seven recommendations on curriculum reforms. The SC bench was told that “myopic interpretation” of religion would be taken out of the curriculum and students will be encouraged to learn Islam’s “spirit of pluralism”. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Member of National Assembly (MNA), says several meetings had taken place in this regards for far.

The federal government revived the National Commission for Religious Minorities through a notification. The commission is headed by Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani says the commission cannot perform because its members “do not know about the issues faced by religious minorities”.
"NADRA advertised 328 jobs for religious minorities but so far no hiring has taken place"

Mushtaq Gill who is pursuing the implementation of the 5 percent job quota for religious minorities said that several government departments made no mention of it when advertising their jobs. “I first filed a case against National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) before the Federal Ombudsman in 2012 after which the authority advertised jobs for religious minorities in January 2013 but never opened recruitment based on this advertisement.”

“Then I took the case to Lahore High Court, and while it was being heard, the SC judgment came out. I was told to present the matter to the three-member bench. After that, NADRA advertised 328 jobs for religious minorities but so far no hiring has taken place,” Mushtaq Gill said.

Punjab Assembly member Shahzad Munchi says “a technical glitch” was removed from the job quota for religious minorities last year, in line with the SC judgment. Before this, positions left vacant were shifted to the general merit where candidates from the majority could apply as well. “Now if the positions advertised for religious minorities remain vacant, they are carried forward and advertised again.”

No measures have been taken so far to constitute a special police force for the protection of worship places of religious minorities. Punjab Chief Secretary Khizar Hayat Gondal told the SC that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had a meeting with parliamentarians and religious leaders, including Provincial Minister for Minority Affairs and Human Rights Khalil Tahir Sandhu, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Catholic archbishop Francis Sebastian Shaw and Church of Pakistan bishop Irfan Jamil on February 5. He submitted that the leaders said “there was no need of raising another force for this purpose” and that they generally agreed that law and order and the protection of worship places “was quite satisfactory in the Punjab and reasonable security was being provided.” The chief minister, however, ordered to ensure “sufficient deployment for the security of places of worship,” the chief secretary said.

The three-member bench demanded stern action against police officers who did not try to stop the mob from lynching and burning a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan last November. Their response was much better when a mob tried to attack a Christian neighborhood this May in Lahore.

The landmark judgment had came out in response to a suo motu notice taken by the SC on non-disbursement of funds to the families of the victims of the All Saints Memorial Church bombings that took place in Peshawar on September 22, 2013. While the court was hearing if the promised compensation had been disbursed, it also discussed other issues related to minorities.

Justice (r) Majida Rizvi said forced conversion of Hindu women continued unabated and a bill should be tabled in the Sindh Assembly to address this issue. “The government is never serious in addressing the issues of minorities, as if they are a nuisance for them. This attitude needs to change.”