Unequal Citizens

No country for minorities

It’s a permanent underclass that is being developed. Pakistan’s religious minorities, already confronted by clear and present physical danger, also have to contend with bleak economic and social prospects.

The employment prospects of Pakistan’s non-Muslims are bleak, as per a report compiled by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) with support from the European Union (EU). The report is called ‘Unequal Citizens: Ending Systemic Discrimination against Minorities’.

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Nearly half of the posts reserved for religious minorities in government jobs remain vacant and even with the posts that are filled, 80 per cent of non-Muslims are employed to carry out jobs for which they are paid less.

Pakistan’s sanitation workers are the unsung heroes that ensure that our cities run properly. Few realise how physically hazardous this task is. Insufficient safety equipment, hazardous work environment and very little compensation in case of accident or death. And the sheer social ostracisation and stigma associated with the work is what twists the knife further. Since the private sector isn’t particularly welcome to minorities, many young men and women are almost nudged towards this line of work.

Speaking of the private sector: though the odds are always stacked against the working class employees (or, for that matter, even the middle class, the vulnerability of the minorities increases manifold because legal recourse to disputes about compensation places them at the mercy of a biased judicial system.

Down south, in Sindh, though the placement of the nation’s Hindu minorities is higher (comparatively) on the socio-economic ladder, the problem of forced conversions has become even more rampant than it was. The marriage-conversion of minors is something that will always find little defence but even that of adults is suspect. In more cases than not, we can see clear cut signs of conversions under duress. One telling comment that is more than apt to ascertain the conditions under which these conversions take place is that it is never Hindu boys who convert to Islam so they can elope with Muslim girls. The imbalance of power is more than visible.

Though an argument could be made that the appalling conditions of the minorities in the country adversely affects our international image, but that should not be our first concern. Our first concern, by a large distance, should be how this reflects to our own citizens. Whether this is the sort of society that we want to keep living in; one that keeps religious minorities down in nigh all ways possible?

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]


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