Peter Jacob, director of the Centre for Social Justice, speaks at a conference on minorities in Lahore on June 25. (Photo: Centre for Social Justice)
Human rights activists have rejected a recent bill that seeks to define religious minorities in Pakistan as non-Muslims.
Last month Keeso Mal Kheeal Das, a Hindu member of the National Assembly, urged the state to refrain from using the word "minority" when referring to non-Muslims.
“It is against the spirit of the constitution to discriminate against a large part of the population by declaring them minorities while the sacrifices of that population are remarkable in every sphere of life for the prosperity, growth and bright future of the county,” stated the bill.
“In a democratic Pakistan, the use of the word 'minority,' which refers to non-Muslims, may result in the latter being treated as second-class citizens. This tendency seems to be getting stronger lately. This constitutional amendment will be a constructive effort to establish equality and justice for every citizen to build Pakistan as a home for everyone.”
Christian and Muslim speakers lamented the recent resolution at a June 25 conference titled "The Idea of Equal Citizenship and Minority Rights." Lawyers, journalists, right activists, religious leaders and political workers attended the event organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
“Over time, the efforts of standardizing citizenship with one’s faith will make matters even worse. The people should be called by their names and preferred religious identity rather than imposing a negative or collective identity. At least the term 'minority' is itself non-religious,” said Peter Jacob, Catholic director of the CSJ.
The biggest mistake was to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment in 1974
“The move reflected a dangerous trend of self-exclusion or reverse discrimination. Another lawmaker suggested the term ‘others’ for minorities. Instead, the constitution of Pakistan should carry no preference or restriction on the basis of religion or sect, except affirmative action.”
According to political analyst Wajahat Masood, religious freedom in Pakistan is linked to political disempowerment.
“The biggest mistake was to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment in 1974. The declining demography of minorities, shown in the 2017 census, is indicative of a systemic extinction of minorities,” he said.
According to the Bureau of Statistics report of the sixth Population and Housing Census 2017, released last month, Christians make up 1.27 percent of Pakistan's population of 207.68 million. Official estimates from the 1998 census cited 1.59 percent of the total population (132 million at that time) were Christians.