Protecting Minorities

One way to judge the character of a people is by observing its majority’s behaviour towards minorities. A country which fails to safeguard the basic rights of its religious minorities cannot claim to be civilised. In Pakistan, attacks on members of the minority communities and their places of worship occur frequently, and go unpunished just as often. There are two major factors which come together and stand in the way of ensuring a safe and dignified life for Pakistani Hindus, Christians, Shiites, Ahmadis and others. The first is growing religious intolerance. When people start identifying themselves only through religion, and disregard the bond of humanity that ultimately unites them, they are likely to view those who don’t share their beliefs as inferior to them. Peaceful co-existence demands mutual respect. As the latter is missing, the former will remain unachievable. Places of worship hold symbolic value same as the attacks made against them. When the mob burns down a Christian church or a Hindu temple, it tells us about the sort of treatment it wishes for those who worship there. Its behaviour is further encouraged by inaction from law enforcement agencies (LEAs), which is the second major factor. One can either educate or deter. The state is failing on both fronts. The fact that the culprits are almost always allowed to evade justice sends a dangerous message. It leaves minorities vulnerable, and no one feels the need to think twice before targeting them again.
While hearing a suo moto case on Peshawar church blasts, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, remarked that offences against all religions fall under the ambit of blasphemy laws. Till now, the popular perception has been that blasphemy laws only deal with offences against the majority religion, Islam. The CJP also expressed disappointment over the failure of LEAs in curtailing crimes against minorities and taking culprits to task. The SC, with the assistance from legal experts appointed as amici curiae, will set guidelines for LEAs to guarantee the safety of places of worship. It is encouraging to see the highest court of the land take special interest in an issue which deserves all the attention it can get. While the government represents the will of the people, the courts must be dedicated towards protecting their civil liberties and rights. During this time of intolerance and violence, when schoolteachers are being shot and killed in Hangu, when three men are murdered for being homosexuals along with other outcasts who live in fear and die every day, the SC holds the power to preserve our conscience through its judgments.

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