08/14/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Minorities demand equal rights as country celebrates independence

by Qaiser Felix
As Pakistan celebrates 60 years since independence from the United Kingdom, thousands of people from minority communities demand equal rights, appealing to the vision of the Father of the nation, Ali Jinnah. Former Prime Minister Bhutto says country is in great need for a “voice against religious intolerance.”

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s religious minorities marched in Lahore on Sunday to press for equal rights of citizenship as well as the same opportunities enjoyed by the Muslim majority. They also demanded an end to discriminatory laws like Sections 295-B and C of the Penal Code, better known as the ‘blasphemy laws.’

The rally, which was organised by the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), also included a 30-point set of demands that was sent to the Chief Justice and the government of Pakistan for consideration. Its main thrust was to demand that the country reflect the vision expressed by the Father of the nation Ali Jinnah.

The rally began with a recitation from the Bible. Participants observed silence for few moments and offered prayers, each according to his or her own faith.

It attracted tens of thousands men and women of all ages belonging to different faiths from all four provinces of Pakistan including high officials from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is headed by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In a long speech APMA Chairman Shahbaz Bhatti greeted “this very first step of solidarity.” In coming people “have also proved” that they “would be no more depressed and voiceless.”

“From now, I assure you all, that we are no more beggars and we would not beg for our rights; instead we are going to get our rights because we are united [. . .] the sons of this sacred land of Pakistan,” Bhatti said.

“Women,” he added, “have to come out of [their] homes.” They must join “our peaceful struggle for equal rights [. . .] and youth have to sacrifice to make a new history of Pakistan.”

Fr Bonnie Mendes said the state and religion should be separate and the struggle to achieve this goal must be pursued constitutionally. This is the “only way that we can make Pakistan the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam” (the Great Leader as Ali Jinnah’s was known in Urdu).

Bajan Das Tajwani, a Hindu lawyer, lamented that Jinnah’s vision was denied in today’s Pakistan; this is why religious minorities are facing a lot of problems and difficulties in the country.

Qasim Zia, opposition leader in the Punjab Provincial Assembly, relayed a message from Benazir Bhutto in which she expressed her support for the rally since “the country had never been in so great a need for a voice against religious intolerance and extremism.

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