Dawn Op Ed: A vulnerable minority

PERSECUTION can be overt at times, subtle and insidious at others; and most people would likely agree that it is an ugly, despicable thing. However, there is one minority community in Pakistan — the Ahmadis — against whom persecution of both kinds not only exists but is celebrated as a virtue by sections of the majority.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan held a consultative meeting with members of the community on Sunday to explore the issue and perhaps, in the process, attempt to hold up a mirror to society’s unconscionable collusion in discrimination against them.

Also read: Eleven members of Ahmadi minority killed in 2014: report

On the occasion, examples were cited from various aspects of life, including educational institutions and the workplace, where they are subjected to humiliation and harassment, as well as in the media — where hate speech against them may have even incited the murder of some members of the community.

The HRCP panelists recounted Pakistan’s legislative history whereby adherents of the minority faith were declared non-Muslim through a constitutional amendment in 1974; that was later followed by Gen Ziaul Haq making it a punishable offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, to refer to their call to prayer as ‘azan’ or their places of worship as ‘masjid’.

The HRCP deserves to be commended for highlighting an issue that the conscience of society has long buried. Years of institutionalised discrimination against the Ahmadi community and its persistent vilification have led to a situation where even the mass murder of its members in Lahore on May 28, 2010 failed to elicit the kind of public outrage that such carnage should have merited — and has done so in the case of similar attacks on adherents of other minority faiths.

But then, why should one be surprised at such callous indifference when the state, duty-bound to protect the fundamental rights of all its citizens, has left the community’s right to religious freedom entirely at the mercy of what the majority considers acceptable?

This carte blanche is best reflected in Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which stipulates that an Ahmadi is liable to sanctions if he “in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims”: such an open-ended law cannot promote the cause of justice.

Now that there is a realisation that religious intolerance has spawned many of the problems that Pakistan is grappling with today, there must be a resolve to eliminate it in all its forms — without exception.

Published in Dawn, October 7th , 2015

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