LAHORE - The participants of a panel discussion with members of Punjab Assembly and civil society organisations stressed the need for implementing constitutional and international guarantees protecting the rights of religious minorities.
South Asia Partnership-Pakistan arranged the panel discussion at a local hotel on Tuesday. Taking part in the discussion, member National Commission on Status of Women Tanveer Jahan said that it was necessary to introduce some administrative and policy changes aiming it protecting the rights of minorities already guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan. She said that there were some inherent problems in the constitution regarding religious minorities which must be removed.
It was also shared that though 18th constitutional amendment provided more autonomy to federating units and it introduced many other good thing too, but there was no minority representation ensured during the drafting of this important piece of legislation.
Bishop Munawar Rumal Shah said that protection was not the issue; rather minorities wanted the rights for which they were eligible as human beings.
Commenting on the issue of political representation of minorities, Director Center for Human Rights Education Samson Salamat said that the people elected on reserved seats were not representative of religious minorities. The political parties must award tickets to religious minorities to contest direct election. The participants stressed the need of banning forced conversions by introducing legislation.
Commenting on hate material, educational curriculum and use of loud speakers, the participants suggested a total ban on the use of loud speakers other than for Azaan. They said that some educational reforms must be introduced to change the curriculum to promote religious tolerance. It was also shared that media has a great role to play promoting religious harmony and for the safeguard of rights of minorities. It needs to be sensitised on the issues of minorities and highlight those with the objective of promoting religious harmony. The participants said that the literacy rate among the minorities was lower and one of the reasons behind it was nationalisation of schools belonging to Christians. They must be handed over to them.
A demand of census of religious minorities was also raised during the discussion since they did not endorse the present official figures about the population. The participants also expressed concerns about the Blasphemy Laws which were generally used against the religious minorities.