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Pakistan's minority population is shrinking

Non-Muslim numbers have dropped from 40 percent to 4 percent since independence

Christians protest religious intolerance in Lahore Christians protest religious intolerance in Lahore
  • ucanews.com reporter, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • June 25, 2012
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Religious minorities have all but evacuated Pakistan amid increasing extremism and restrictions on religious freedom.

Non-Muslims now make up less than four percent of the country's 170 million residents, a drastic decline from the 40 percent when modern Pakistan was formed in 1947.

“Attitudes towards non-Muslims became more aggressive under the prolonged military regimes, while the democratic governments failed to address the situation,” said Nasira Iqbal, a retired judge of Lahore High Court. The introduction of blasphemy laws has made non-Muslims more vulnerable to persecution, she added.

“At present, there is not a single Jew in the country,” Iqbal said. “In Lahore, there are fewer than 20 Parsi [Zorastrian] families. The number has almost halved in only three years.”

Iqbal spoke Friday at the People’s Convention on Ending Religious Discrimination and Violence: Stake-holders Responsibilities, organized by the Peace and Tolerance Alliance (PTA). The PTA urged the government to put checks on discrimination, end forced conversion and excise religion from the legal system.

Amar Nath Randhawa, president of the Hindu Sudhar Sabha (Hindu Welfare Society), said more than 400 Hindu families have left Pakistan in the past year.

“There are about half a million Hindus in Punjab, but we have no representation in the provincial assembly,” he said. “We have to observe our religious rituals at home since temples and cremation grounds are being forcefully occupied. Educated girls have to stay at home for fear of abductions and forced conversions.”

Kanwal Feroz, editor of a Christian monthly, said the emigration trend has increased among Christian families as well, especially among the young generation.

“There is a wave of disappointment every time culprits of anti-Christian violence go unpunished,” Feroz said. He also pointed out that gaining asylum can be more difficult for Christians than Hindus, who are more easily accepted in India.

“Many Christians lose huge amounts of money seeking asylum abroad,” he said.

Religious violence in the country is not limited to non-Muslims. The Sunni majority also targets Shi'ites, such as the Hazara sect in Balochistan province, where five Shi'ite students were killed on June 18 by a remote-controlled bomb planted in a university bus.

Local police claimed terrorists targeted the bus because it carried mostly Shi'ite students.

Over the last decade, more than 700 Shi'ites have been killed in the province, gripped by separatist insurgency, sectarian violence and Taliban suicide attacks.

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