- Jinnah Institute launches annual report on ‘State of Religious Freedom in Pakistan’
Speakers of a moot on Tuesday deplored the discrimination meted out to religious and sectarian minorities in Pakistan, calling for immediate measures to rid the country of discriminatory laws and adopting equal rights for all citizens irrespective of their caste, creed or religious beliefs.
Jinnah Institute, a non-profit public policy institute presided over by Sherry Rehman, launched their annual report titled ‘State of Religious Freedom in Pakistan’, detailing discrimination meted out to Ahmedis, Hindus, Christians and Shias and the religious freedoms that they have been denied, the treatment meted out to them on daily basis and the testimonials by the victims of religious discrimination.
The report was the result of over 100 interviews and discussions by focus groups. The report revisits the major incidents of discriminations and violence in the country.
The screening of the documentary ‘Strangers in their own land’ at the start of the session provided the much-needed context for the panel talks that followed. The testimonials by people hailing from minorities painted the life lived day in and day out by members of Christian, Hazara, Hindu and Ahmedi communities. The loved ones lost, the dear ones silenced. The short documentary shed light on the hell that the ‘children of a lesser god’ are made to go through every day.
The panel included Senator and President of Jinnah Institute Sherry Rehman, Christian Study Centre Acting Director and researcher Jennifer Jag Jivan, human rights activist Ali Dayan Hasan who was also the editor of the report; PML-N MNA and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council Ramesh Kumar Vankwani and human rights activist and social worker Tahira Abdullah.
Sherry Rehman besides being the speaker also moderated the panel discussion. From the outset she reminded the audience of Jinnah’s 11th August speech and how he envisioned a democratic, secular country. She also emphasised the need to empower the vulnerable and talk about things that happen around us before embarking on long tirades against other countries.
Ali Dayan Hassan told the audience that it was the second of two reports. He underscored the fundamental importance of human rights and the nuances of law being used as instrument to perpetuate abuse.
Jennifer Jag Jivan painted a picture of the dilemmas faced by Christians in particular and minorities in general. Jivan, without remotely sounding donnish or pedantic, pinpointed the exclusion practiced by our society and our innate bent to divide the world in ‘us’ and ‘them’. The prejudice, bigotry, bias, discrimination that is rampant in our society was portrayed concisely in her speech.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani corrected the mistake in the report and said that there are 8 million Hindus in Pakistan and not 1 million. One million Hindus, Vankwani said, live in Thar Parker alone. He mentioned his efforts to improve the overall situation. He said that we need to work on the curriculum, religious education as well as legislation for the minorities.
The last panelist, Tahira Abdullah, was told to be as brief as possible due to paucity of time. She started by chalking out the dire situation of Thar Parker where 4 to 5 babies are dying every day. She stressed the need to go beyond the reported cases and protect people who are vulnerable because of their beliefs.
“Political will and commitment is all that is required to purge our society of the menace that abounds our surroundings,” Tahira said. “Now is the time to change the hearts and minds of the people.”