July 12, 2019
Pakistan has an overwhelmingly Muslim community, which accounts for 90 per cent of its 142 million inhabitants. The Muslim population however belongs to several doctrinal groups. Sunnis are in the majority amongst Muslims, with Shia Muslims and Zikris facing discrimination. In 1974, the National Assembly of Pakistan has declared Ahmadis (also called Qadianis) a non-Muslim minority. There are several Christian denominations, Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Kalasha, Parsis and Sikhs who are identified as non- Muslim Pakistanis. The policy of Islamization in the 1970s and 1980’s, the subsequent rise of Taliban insurgency and the patronage of extremists groups by different political and religious groups in Pakistan have contributed to the intolerance and acts of violence against the religious and sectarian minorities of Pakistan.
The vague terminology of the current legislation has in fact allowed for the misuse of Sections 295-298 PPC, and has resulted in the persecution of minorities and the poor by providing the dishonest complainant with a mechanism for settling personal vendettas through the flawed system of justice. The law that is designed to protect people has actually become a tool for promoting intolerance. Although a majority of those charged under this law are Muslims, yet the law has made the non-Muslims even more vulnerable. In addition to this, the manner in which the religious groups in Pakistan propagate the flawed laws has resulted in vigilantism and mob violence. The state has consistently failed to intervene and protect its people against violence by maliciously motivated elements and the certainty of impunity has encouraged them to commit lawlessness.
Insertion of section 298A into the PPC during the process of Islamization is considered as a threat for the religious and sectarian minorities in Pakistan. Although the Blasphemy Laws apply to all Pakistanis alike, whether Muslims or Non- Muslims, however the religious minorities are more prone when it comes to the ‘misuse’ of this law. According to various national and international human rights organizations article 298B and 298C of PPC, coupled with the Blasphemy laws, has further institutionalized the marginalization of the Ahmedia Community in Pakistan. The abstruse legislation and the lack of procedural safeguards has made these laws open for widespread abuse and have reportedly been used to harass and target religious minorities, as well as to settle personal scores or carry out personal vendettas.
By taking certain measures the misuse of this law can be curtailed to a certain extent. For example, the minorities have very limited representation in the Parliament so there is a dire need to increase the reserved seats for the religious minorities. Moreover, the Parliament must have representation of all the religious minorities including Ahmedis, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis etcetera and each shall be allotted seats according to their population ratio. The quota for religious minorities in civil and military services of Pakistan shall be fixed and/or increased. The system of separate electorate should also be re-instated in order to secure fair representation for the minorities.
Insertion of section 298A into the PPC during the process of Islamization is considered as a threat for the religious and sectarian minorities in Pakistan. Although the Blasphemy Laws apply to all Pakistanis alike, whether Muslims or Non- Muslims, however the religious minorities are more prone when it comes to the ‘misuse’ of this law
Secondly, at the social front, the state should take measures to revise the curriculum and to make sure that is free of hate speech and intolerance towards religious minorities and reflects pluralism, and co-existence which is the true spirit of Islam.
Thirdly, the state should take all necessary measures to make sure that it abides by the international treaties that Pakistan has ratified (ICCPR ratified in 2010) and also make serious efforts to implement the fundamental rights in letter and spirit to safeguard the status of minorities.
The composition of our criminal justice system includes Police, Prosecution and Courts among others. A criminal case is first registered as an FIR with the Police; the Prosecution carries out investigation upon it, the Courts then check whether the investigation carried-out was impartial and concerns of both the aggrieved parties are addressed adequately. Legal and executive/administrative lapse happens, usually, at the first two stages i.e. the Investigation of Police and the duty of the Prosecution to determine the impartiality of that investigation. There’s no check whatsoever on either the former or the later which makes it difficult for the Courts to determine whether or not there were some executive shortcomings in the investigation. To improve the system, a judicial officer shall supervise the investigation carried out by police.
Section 298B and 298C of the Pakistan Penal Code shall be amended and made objective in nature along with ensuring an independent and accessible judicial system that can dispense justice timely.
Lastly and most importantly, Parliament of Pakistan must make an amendment to make article 36 ‘Protection of Minorities’ a part of Fundamental Rights. Article 36 is presently part of the ‘Principles of Policy’, which states that the principles under this chapter shall be regarded as being subject to the ‘availability of resources’. The Constitution of Pakistan does not include as to what pertains to the availability of resources and do not provide any kind of timeline as by when these principles will be implemented effectively by the state. So article 36, which is meant to secure the status of religious minorities, is a part of non-operational part of the constitution. In fact it renders all other fundamental rights of the minorities useless by linking the implementation of article 36 with availability of resources. Until and unless the religious minorities are given proper constitutional safeguards, we cannot expect Pakistan to be a pluralist society.
The writer is the author of Baluchistan Conundrum – The Real Perspective. She is a PhD scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University