04/13/2022, 15.20
PAKISTAN
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Minorities urge new Pakistani government to defend religious freedom and their rights

by Shafique Khokhar

Rwadari Tehreek urges the new Sharif government to top religious hate, enable minorities to elect their own representatives, and take steps to stop violence against women and children. A few days ago, a 12-year-old Christian girl was raped by a Muslim neighbour in Karachi.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Christians and other minorities in Pakistan have welcomed the outcome of the constitutional crisis that saw parliament back a no confidence vote against Imran Khan.

With a new government led by Shehbaz Sharif, they are now demanding concrete actions to improve their conditions, which remain precarious, as evinced by the latest incidents of violence and abuse.

Although his party is right-wing and his personal track record vis-à-vis minorities is not particularly impressive, Sharif will have to form a coalition government with some progressive national and regional political parties.

According to freelance journalist Aftab Alexander Mughal, the new government should focus on two main objectives, one short-term and the other long-term.

"The first one is financial support for minorities to cope with extreme poverty and rising inflation,” Mughal told AsiaNews. “Especially young people out of work should get scholarships and loans to pursue technical training.”

For the journalist, the long-term goal should be for “the government to minimise discrimination and guarantee protection against allegations of blasphemy, kidnapping, forced conversions and forced marriages.”

Defending democratic principles, such as freedom of religion and the press, is also important for human rights activist Suneel Malik.

The government “must review the regressive reforms based on religious education and favour [instead] an inclusive and equitable education system, free from any discrimination,” Malik said.

Rwadari Tehreek, a social movement created in 2015 precisely to counter intolerance and violent extremism in Pakistani society and promote respect for religious diversity, presented a series of recommendations to the new government.

First, the group, whose members come from different walks of life and religious backgrounds, said that all state institutions should ensure that there are no undue interferences, avoid instigating hate and political violence, and be transparent in the electoral process.

Minorities should be given the right to choose their own representatives in the national and provincial assemblies and grievances from the provinces should be addressed.

Constitutional reforms are needed to stop the violence against the weakest groups in society, most notably women, children, workers and religious minorities.

On economic matters, workers should be ensured reasonable wages, non-productive spending should be cut to save money, the number of ministers should be reduced, tourism and other sectors should be promoted, and policies should be implemented to address the challenges of climate change.

Last but not least, actions should be undertaken to reduce intolerance and fight extremist attitudes in society. This includes a zero-tolerance towards hate and violence as well as educational reforms to counteract their incitement.

Such concerns are directly linked to actual lives as evinced by the latest act of violence that took place recently in Karachi involving a 12-year-old Christian girl raped by a Muslim.

The girl, who lives near the ​​Jinnah Hospital, was attacked by a neighbour, Muhammad Tahir, who is often drunk, her parents said.

“Our daughter went to the roof to collect clothes and came back after half an hour, with her face swollen and her clothes stained with blood,” her mother said.

Despite death threats, the family turned to Baji Nusrat, a social activist and secretary of the Life Line organisation, and filed a complaint at the Saddar police station. The authorities later arrested the girl’s attacker.

This episode is just another reminder of how much remains to be done for human rights to be fully respected in Pakistan.

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