Updated: June 24, 2020 09:33 AM GMT
Christian lawmaker Tahir Khalil Sandhu says religious minorities in Pakistan are being ignored. (Photo: YouTube)
A Christian lawmaker has lashed out at Pakistan's government for “ignoring religious minorities” in its recently announced budget for fiscal year 2020-21.
“We have been treated as pensioners who can neither live nor die in peace. What does the budget 2020-21 have for minority schemes? A mere 50 crore [500 million Pakistani rupees],” Tahir Khalil Sandhu, a former Punjab minority affairs minister, told his fellow lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly on June 22.
“I still remember the budget that was presented by the previous government. It had allocated 1.5 billion rupees in addition to a special package announced by the chief minister of Punjab for temples, churches and other places of minorities.
“Literally, there is nothing for us in the budget. I am very upset for the first time that the government has announced a meager amount of approximately US$29 million for the 2.5 percent Christian population of the province.
“I want to remind the minister that we are equal Pakistanis. Nobody had conquered us. We had been living here even before the creation of Pakistan. And we will remain faithful to this land.”
Sandhu also drew the attention of the house to the growing incidents of forced religious conversion.
“Last week minor Christian girl Maira Shabaz was kidnapped and forcefully converted and married off to a Muslim. This happened despite the fact that we had made a law in the assembly to stop child marriages,” he said.
“When a person under the age of 18 cannot vote or obtain a national identity card, how can he/she be allowed to get married?”
A video clip of the speech went viral on social media platforms, drawing praise from netizens.
Basharat Bhatti, a Catholic teacher and social activist, heaped praise on the Christian minister.
“What Tahir Sandhu said on the floor of the house is true. This is how the minorities of Pakistan are surviving in a very difficult situation,” Bhatti told UCA News.
“Minorities in Pakistan deserve to be provided equal rights and opportunities in all sectors without any discrimination as guaranteed by the constitution.”
Amjad Pervaiz, a Faisalabad-based Christian marketing executive, also praised the minister for highlighting the issues being faced by religious minorities.
“Fantastic, marvelous and wonderful. I have not enough words for appreciation,” Pervaiz wrote on social media.