ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court noted on Thursday that because of absence of effective state action, despite elaborate textual guarantees for minorities’ rights, empirical realities reflect a mixed bag, rather a dismal state of affairs.
The 32-page judgement authored by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani says, “Mere textual pledges in the constitution, though important, are not enough to ensure that those rights would be honoured in practice. It is, therefore, important that the concerned governments/institutions take proactive lead to ensure that those rights are respected and enjoyed in practice.” The court, therefore, directed the federal government to constitute a taskforce tasked with developing a strategy of religious tolerance.
Appropriate curricula should be developed at school and college levels to promote a culture of religious and social tolerance.
The federal government should take appropriate steps to ensure that hate speeches in social media are discouraged and the delinquents are brought to justice under the law.
A national council for minorities’ rights be constituted. The function of the said council should inter alia be to monitor the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the constitution and law. The council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the provincial and federal government.
A special police force should be established with professional training to protect the places of worship of minorities.
The federal and all the provincial governments also directed to ensure the enforcement of the relevant policy directives regarding reservation of quota for minorities in all services.
In all cases of violation of any of the rights guaranteed under the law or desecration of the places of worship of minorities, the concerned law enforcing agencies should promptly take action including the registration of criminal cases against the delinquents.
The office shall open a separate file to be placed before a three members bench to ensure that this judgement is given effect to in letter and spirit and the said bench may also entertain complaints/ petitions relatable to violation of fundamental rights of minorities in the country.
The chief justice had taken the suo moto of attack on Church in Peshawar in which 81 persons died. Later the court also received complaints of minorities’ leaders about attack on their worship places and forced conversion of Hindu girls and compensation not paid by the federal and the KP provincial governments.
The judgement says Islam does not compel people of other faiths to convert. It has given them complete freedom to retain their own faith and not to be forced to embrace Islam. “This freedom is documented in both the Holy Quran and the prophetic teachings known as Sunnah.”
Democracy is not an unmixed blessing; on the one hand it confers respect for minorities’ rights and on the other it provides a platform where intolerance and hatreds get leeway leading to societal friction and violence. Such intolerance and hatreds have found their way in the social media as well and no effort has been made to check it.
The judgement said that there is a general lack of awareness about minority rights among the people and those entrusted with enforcement of law are also not fully sensitised to this issue either.
The freedom of religion must be construed liberally to include freedom of conscience, thought, expression, belief and faith. The freedom of religion must not be curtailed by attributing an interpretation of the right to religious belief and practice exclusively as a community-based freedom.
The right to religious conscience is a fundamental right. It has not been subjected or subordinated to any other provision of the constitution because it is only subject to law, public order and morality and not to any religious clauses of the constitution.
The notion of law or public order or morality is not reducible to the Islamic meanings of these terms. Therefore article 20 has a certain pre-eminence in the constitution being only subject to the general restrictions of law, public order and morality, which three terms cannot be interpreted or used in such a restrictive way as to curtail the basic essence and meaning of the pre-eminent right to religious conscience.
The right to profess and practice is conferred not only on religious communities but also on every citizen. Neither the majority religious denominations or sect nor the minority religious denomination or sect can impose its religious will on the citizen. Justice Tassaduq stresses upon this that every citizen would necessarily include both males and females (article 263), which point needs emphasis considering the exclusion or subordination of women in relation to numerous forms of religious practices.
The right of religious conscience conferred on every citizen is a right conferring three distinct rights i.e. right to profess, right to practice and right to propagate. The article 20 does not merely confer a private right to profess but confers a right to practice both privately and publicly his or her religion. Moreover, it confers the additional right not only to profess and practice his own religion but to have the right to propagate his or her religion to others.
The propagation of religion has not been limited to Muslims but this right is equally conferred on non-Muslims to propagate their religion to their own community and to other communities.
“This should not be seen as a right to encourage conversions but more importantly, should be seen as a right against forced conversions or imposing beliefs on others because if all citizens have the right to propagate then no citizen has the right of forced conversion or imposing beliefs on others.”
“It is imperative that the right to freedom of religion be restored as an individual and indefeasible right, while concurrently preserving and protecting this right at a communal level, where the latter does not infringe on the former.”