Muhammad Ali Jinnah made a historic speech on Aug. 11, 1947. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Minority lawmakers and rights groups have called on Pakistan to honor the pledge of the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah regarding religious minorities in accordance with his address to the first Constituent Assembly.
The demand came as Pakistan celebrated National Minorities Day on Aug. 11.
“Both state and society must be true to Mr. Jinnah’s vision of a country in which religion or belief was a personal matter and no basis for differences of citizenship,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement.
“Seventy-three years after this historic speech, Pakistan’s religious minorities continue to be relegated to the status of second-class citizens, vulnerable to inherent discriminatory practices, forced conversions and faith-based violence.”
The commission called on the state to implement the 2014 Supreme Court judgment protecting the right to manifest one’s religion or belief in private or public free of coercion.
“A bold and pivotal step would be to modify the constitution to reflect Mr Jinnah’s August 11 speech, which — as an address to the first Constituent Assembly — should be treated as policy direction rather than political rhetoric.”
The group demanded that the government set up an autonomous statutory national commission for minorities’ rights to replace the ineffectual National Commission for Minorities reconstituted earlier this year.
The single national curriculum, which violates the constitutional guarantee that no member of a religious minority will be required to receive religious instruction not relevant to their own religion, must be revised to reflect that a uniform standard of education is not the same as a uniform curriculum.
Separately, Tahir Khalil Sandhu, a Christian lawmaker, moved a resolution in the Punjab Assembly on Aug. 10 seeking to include Jinnah’s address in the national curriculum at every level.
In his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on Aug. 11, 1947, Jinnah said: “Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.
"The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the nation.
"Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
Rawadari Tehreek, a rights group promoting interfaith harmony, presented a charter of demands on National Minorities Day.
“The speech of the founder of Pakistan should be made part of the preamble of the constitution of Pakistan and should also be included in the curriculum of the educational institutions,” chairman Samson Salamat said.
“Constitutional reforms package should be brought in consultation with religious minorities and civil society. Initiate long-awaited education reforms to highlight the contributions of religious minorities to the creation and development of Pakistan.
“Equal Citizenship Day should be commemorated on August 11 instead of the Day of Minorities as officially designated in 2009.”
Salamat also expressed concern over deep-rooted religious discrimination and recent incidents of hate speech, instigation and provocation against minorities in connection with the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad, the murders of Nadeem Joseph and blasphemy accused Tahir Ahmed Naseem in a Peshawar courtroom, and vandalizing of the graves of Ahmadis.