by Zia Ur Rehman
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
On Sharea Faisal near Gora Qabristan, dozens of Pakistan People’s Party minority wing activists, mainly Christians, gathered on Tuesday afternoon, dancing to party songs and waving its flags, before heading towards a gathering near Bilawal House held to mark the National Minority Day.
However, some non-Muslim residents of Bizerta Lines, were watching them from a distance.
Majeed Masih, a sanitary worker, said political parties were merely issuing statements supporting non-Muslims’ rights or organising such activities, but practically, they had done nothing to end the sufferings of the country’s religious minorities.
“How is it the National Minority Day when only the PPP is celebrating it? Where are the government and other political parties?” he questioned.
With reference to the famous speech of the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, the PPP’s previous government had declared August 11 as the National Minority Day in 2009.
The PPP is the only political party that organises public gatherings in Karachi in connection with the day.
However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his message issued in connection with the day, has appreciated the minorities’ role and said Islam safeguarded their rights.
Besides Muslim and non-Muslim activists, many minority leaders also attended the gathering near Bilawal House.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the party’s chairman, and other leaders spoke to the participants of the event.
The PPP’s social media team also ran a hashtag #BilawalVoiceOfMinorities on Twitter
Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minorities’ affairs minister in the previous PPP government, had worked hard to persuade the party leadership to declare August 11 as the National Minority Day when it came into power.
Bhatti, along with other minority leaders, had founded the “All-Pakistan Minorities Alliance” in 1985.
Bhatti was assassinated in early March 2011 in an attack on his vehicle in Islamabad.
Michael Javed, a former Sindh parliamentarian and a close aide of Bhatti, said the slain minority leader had joined the PPP in 2002 and worked tirelessly to protect the rights of non-Muslim communities during the PPP government from 2008 till his assassination.
Because of Bhatti’s hard work, the then prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, had declared August 11 as the National Minority Day, he added
However, he said, other political parties had shown that they did not approve of observing the day by not organising any activities. “It was Bibi’s [Benazir Bhutto’s] dream that the entire nation should celebrate the day.”
Javed also said there had always been a lot of discussion on the rights of the non-Muslims in Pakistan, but hardly any tangible action had taken place to make the communities feel that any change was coming into their lives.
Issues of non-Muslims
Non-Muslim leaders say that the government was not interested in addressing the issues faced by religious minorities.
Javed demanded that the number of parliamentary seats reserved for non-Muslims should be increased.
The total number of seats in the National Assembly has been increased from 217 to 342, but the non-Muslims’ quota in the legislature remains 10, he pointed out.
However, he added, four seats for non-Muslims had been reserved in the Senate.
“At that time, the PPP, especially Benazir, had plans to send non-Muslims as ambassadors to other countries and appoint a non-Muslim governor in one of the four provinces. But her dream remained unfulfilled,” he said.
Sardar Ramesh Singh, the head of the Pakistan Sikh Council, said it was the responsibility of the government to provide non-Muslim communities with religious freedom, ensure the sanctity of their worship places, protect their lives and properties, and grant them their fundamental rights that were enshrined in the Constitution.
“The government should involve genuine religious minority leaders in the policy-making concerning the issues of non-Muslims,” he added.