Resurgence Of Unity: Pakistan's Battle Against Hate Speech And Hate Crimes

Resurgence Of Unity: Pakistan's Battle Against Hate Speech And Hate Crimes
Pakistan, a country once built upon the foundations of being a safe haven for all, is facing an unprecedented and intense surge of hate crimes and hate speech towards religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities.  The rise in such incidents is a cause for grave concern, as it threatens the fabric of inclusivity and harmony that the country strives to maintain. These issues are often overlooked by people as hate speech is many times disregarded as an individual's freedom of speech, however as explained by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, “Addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech. It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law.”

According to a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), hate speech and hate crimes have become a widespread problem. Since 2001, there have been approximately 471 attacks targeting Muslim sectarian minorities, resulting in the death of approximately 2,700. Additionally, numerous violent and targeted attacks have been carried out against various other minority groups in the country, including Christians, Sikhs and Hindus communities.

The khawaja sira community often faces similar prejudice and hate. Riaz, the leader of the Trans-Action Alliance, revealed to The Guardian in an interview that since 2015, 91 transgender individuals have been killed in the province, and there have been 2,000 reported incidents of violence against the transgender community solely in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The focus of this article will be on the use and normalisation of derogatory terms providing a gateway to hate speech and violence. Terms like Marasi, Chura, and Khusra, which are frequently disregarded, represent a significant factor in the acceptance of hate speech and its eventual violent consequences against these communities. Exploring the origins of these words reveals a surprising aspect: most of them initially lacked the negative connotations and derogatory associations they carry today. Over time, they have been transformed into terms linked with shame and disrespect.

The term "Marasi" finds its roots in the Arabic word "mīrās," translating to "inheritance." During medieval times, it was a term associated with individuals who carried forward legacies in various artistic domains; many of them went on to become students of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the 12th Century scholar/poet/musician of the court of Delhi, where they went on to preserve their traditions through the Mughal dynasty. However, as time passed, more stringent political regimes and the evolving rigid and harsh societal judgments regarding moral values contributed to the marginalisation of the Mirasi community. Consequently, they were gradually relegated to the lowest social status, both in terms of community and profession and the term is now used in a derogatory manner to insult artists.

Similarly the khawaja sira community which dates back to the Mughal empire held roles of great respect within the government and were often seen in advisory and leadership roles such as generals; However, with the advent of British colonisation, discrimination and significant cultural transformations took place, eventually giving rise to derogatory terms like "khusra." These shifts in societal dynamics led to a decline in the community's status and the erosion of their once-respected position.

The term ‘Chura’ or ‘Choora’ however has been used as a derogatory term since the cultural amalgamation of Muslims and Hindus due to the British colonial rule, this led to a merging of Brahmanic Hinduism “ritual impurity”  and the association with the Hindu caste Shudra which is one of the lowest casts with Muslim practices and Pakistani culture after partition. To this day it is still used as a way to insult or disrespect the Chrisitian community.

Radical ideologies propagated by extremist groups, which label minorities as infidels or outsiders, incite hatred and fuel the cycle of violence.

To remedy this cycle there are several laws in place; the Pakistan Penal Code Section 295: 295 A “Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs: Maximum punishment; ten years of imprisonment or fine or both.”  and Section 298 : Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings: Maximum punishment; one year, or with fine.

Additionally, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) includes provisions in Section 9 and Section 11 that specifically prohibit the use of hate speech targeting communities online.

Furthermore, Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), which includes Article 20 and 26 that safeguard the rights of minorities by forbidding acts of national, racial, ethnic or religious hatred that incite discrimination, hostility, or violence.

Despite the presence of these laws a large number of cases go unreported and crimes motivated by hate continue. Moreover the internalisation of derogatory terms being used in a way to joke and insult people leads to the masses being desensitised towards the crimes occurring towards the minorities of Pakistan.

Hence it is crucial for law enforcement agencies to be trained to identify hate crimes and act swiftly against perpetrators. Effective investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, along with the provision of adequate protection for potential targets, are essential.

Social media platforms should take responsibility and strengthen their policies to curb the spread of hate speech, while fostering a culture of civil discourse and respect. There also needs to be a focus on educating people on the rights and laws that are in place, so they may report any incident they may come across and help battle this severe issue.

I would hope to deliberate further on possible solutions that may arise with the progress and application of the law in my next article until then Pakistan must take decisive steps towards creating a society that celebrates its diversity and safeguards its communities by implementing legal reforms, promoting education and awareness ensuring the swift prosecution of hate crimes.