President House observes Minorities Day but ignores minority speakers

ISLAMABAD: The National Minorities Day event held at the President House over the weekend has come under severe criticism of the minority religious leaders and socio-political activists as no person from the minority communities was given a chance to speak on the occasion.

The Pakistan Peoples Party government dedicated August 11 as National Minorities Day in 2009 to acknowledge the services of religious minorities in the creation of Pakistan and nation-building, and the tradition has been upheld by successive governments since.

Dr Paul Bhatti, who was appointed as the federal minister for minorities affairs by the PPP government after his younger brother and Pakistan’s first Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was gunned down in a terrorist attack in 2011, said the day was especially dedicated to highlight the services of Pakistan’s religious minorities and to bring to the fore the challenges they continue to face today.

“The past governments have continued the tradition initiated by my late brother but it is unfortunate that this time the event held at the President’s House did not give a chance to any minority representative to speak on the issues facing their communities,” he said.

Moreover, Dr Bhatti said that there were a lot of misconceptions related to the observation of the Minorities Day which need to be clarified.

“Shahbaz Bhatti was a follower of Quaid-e-Azam’s ideology of a Pakistani society where all citizens, regardless of their religion, caste and creed, were equal in the eyes of the State. He chose August 11 as a special day for minorities to re-emphasise the Quaid’s speech to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan where the nation’s founder had laid the basis for a truly pluralistic and egalitarian society,” he added.

Professor Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, said the event held on August 25 had exposed the “double standards” of the government.

In a tweet, Paul wrote: “Dear President. Minorities Day was celebrated today on August 25, 2021, at President House. It is so sad that no one from the religious minorities was a speaker. It is better not to celebrate it when they cannot utter even a single word on this day.

In a follow-up tweet on August 27, Prof Paul stated: “Double standards! They actually deny equal rights but just claim that all are equal before the law.”

Bishop Azad Marshall, the moderator/president of the Church of Pakistan, also expressed reservations over the event.

“This is absurd and totally unacceptable. When the government holds an event for religious minorities but does not allow even a single minority representative to speak on the occasion, it is in fact revalidating the stance that religious minorities are not being given their due rights as guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said.

The senior church leader further said that symbolic celebrations were in no way addressing the concerns of the religious minorities. “The government needs to be mindful of the true representation of religious minorities if it is serious in doing something tangible for our people,” he said.

Shunila Ruth, a Christian member of the National Assembly from the ruling party and federal parliamentary secretary for human rights and interfaith harmony, said the event was organised by the Religious Affairs Ministry.

“Even I was not taken on board by the ministry when this event was planned,” she claimed.

Ruth conceded the event for religious minorities should have included speakers from the minority community “but due consideration was not given to this by the event planners”.

“I was told that minority representatives could not be given a chance to address the event due to a paucity of time and only the president and the religious affairs minister would speak on the occasion,” she said.

The MP said she had conveyed her concerns to Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and he had assured her that the mistake would not be repeated in future.

“Here I would like to stress on the need for reintroducing a ministry for minorities affairs so that issues facing the religious minorities get due consideration and are addressed effectively by the government.”

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