THE ´LEGAL´ OPPRESSION OF MINORITIES IN PAKISTAN

Pakistan
1992-10-20 00:00:00

Joseph Francis, 48, is the general secretary of the Pakistan Christian National Party. A Catholic born before Pakistan was created, Francis has lived through the entire history of the struggle for minority rights in his country.

His commentary chronicling minorities´ experience of oppression sponsored or tacitly condoned by the government and religious extremists appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of ASIA FOCUS.

Minorities in Pakistan, especially Christians, will never forget the day in 1942 when the renowned Christian leader and speaker of the United Punjab Assembly, Dewan Bahadur S.P. Singha, assured Mohammad Ali Jinnah that Christians in the Punjab would fully support Muslims in the creation of a sovereign state.

Singha thought that Muslims, having been deprived of basic rights by the Hindu majority, would realize that deprivation gives birth to revolt and treat minorities better.

Keeping this in view, in August 1947 Singha appeared before the Boundary Commission to vote in favor of Pakistan.

Jinnah in his Aug. 11, 1947, address to the First Constitutional Assembly said "We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State."

Singha´s optimistic expectations about the Christian minority receiving better treatment at the hands of the Muslim majority were chilled shortly, when the Muslim League "mullahs" (Islamic teachers) decided to remove a "Christian," Singha, from the speakership of Pakistan´s Punjab Assembly.

Jinnah was dismayed at the removal of Singha, but even the founder of Pakistan was increasingly helpless before the religious extremists. As well, Jinnah did not live long after the birth of the nation.

Neither did the constitution he helped draft last. In 1958 martial law was first enforced in this country, and under it minorities´ representation in the assemblies was abolished.

The 1973 constitution reinstated representation of minorities, but it also declared Islam the country´s official religion. It granted minorities equal rights under section 25, but this was widely ignored.

Martial law returned in 1977 when Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq overthrew the Pakistan People´s Party. Under the guise of Islamization, Zia fueled sectarian clashes to divide the country into groups that would not unite in opposition to him.

Martial Law Order 14 again deprived minorities of their Pakistani nationality. A separate electoral system was set-up that isolated minorities from the mainstream.

Under the Zia regime the attempt was made to implement the "Shariat," Islamic law, and the federal Shariat court was founded. The court barred minority lawyers, directly violating Articles 18 and 20 in the constitution.

Further, the court adopted the Law of Witnesses, under which the testimony of a Muslim man is worth the testimony of four Muslim women or non-Muslim men. That opened a new door for sexual harassment of Christian women, which was virtually condoned in the court´s 1988 decision that if a married Christian man or woman becomes a Muslim, his/her marriage is voided automatically.

This has led to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christian women being abducted and sexually harassed. They are considered "converted" to Islam on the word of a mullah from some remote place.

The 1985 "Contempt of the Prophet" law allowed not only the minorities, but liberal and humanistic Muslims who raised their voices against injustice, to be silenced. Even murder has been all but made legal by merely claiming that the victim had spoken against Prophet Mohammad.

As an example, Bantu Masih, a Christian man of Lahore Cantonment, was stabbed in a police station in the presence of police. While the wounded Bantu was lying in a hospital fighting for his life, the police registered a case of "Contempt of the Prophet" against him to protect the Muslim culprit.

The situation of minorities improved under Benazir Bhutto, who tried to run the government according to humanitarian principles. She tried to make amendments to the Shariat bill, but was accused of being anti-Islamic. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan took advantage of the situation in dismissing the Bhutto government.

Though progressive and human rights organizations protested against it, the present government of Nawaz Sharif passed the Shariat bill making Islamic law the law of this now fully Islamic state.

That minorities are victimized with the consent of Pakistani authorities would be best illustrated by citing just some of the too numerous incidents.

In Sukkur a Hindu minor girl was raped. Hindus demonstrated against the rape and the subsequent attempts to force the girl to convert to Islam. Police opened fire on them, killing seven people. The court stood with the fundamentalists.

So, Christians are not the only group suffering while the government boasts of equality and implements Islamic law. The following cases have been taken up by the Pakistan Christian National Party.

Razia Bibi of F.C. College, Lahore, was raped by four watchmen in front of her husband. The case was registered against the culprits but Jamait-i-Islami (a fundamentalist Islamic political party) conspired with police to register a counter case of adultery against Razia Bibi and her husband.

Christian holy days are given no consideration. It has become a usual practice for the last many years to conduct matriculation examinations on Easter day.

This year the government displayed its contempt by announcing local elections around Christmas day. And when a Christian member of the National Assembly protested against that in Lahore, right on Dec. 25, police beat him and other Christians with wooden sticks and used tear gas.

Entering the Lahore Cathedral, the police beat children, elders and women and used tear gas, as a result of which 35 children and 20 women were injured. The cross was even kicked at.

At the New Year a Christian scholar, writer and school teacher in Faisalabad, Naimet Ahmer, was murdered by a relative of another teacher who falsely accused Ahmer of "Contempt of the Prophet" just to stay in his own village school.

The district management and local police kissed the face of the murderer. An ex-president of the Faisalabad Bar has encouraged him by promising that no lawyer will represent the other side. Meanwhile, mullahs are collecting thousands of rupees in order to help the murderer.

And all of this is due to the simple reason that he is a free Muslim who lives in a free Muslim country, Pakistan. The deceased was also a free citizen of this free country, but his "crime" was being a Christian.

END

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