08/11/2016, 16.32
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Pakistan marks Minorities Day but does not guarantee their rights

by Shafique Khokhar

Today is 69th anniversary of the historic speech by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan, before the constituent assembly of the newly-established state. The Day honours the contribution of minorities to nation-building. Christian, Hindu and Sikh leaders want justice. Priorities are work, education and an end to forced conversions.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Government of Pakistan must remember its responsibility to protect the rights of marginalised communities, representatives of the country’s religious minorities said on 11 August, Minorities Day.

Today is in fact the 69th anniversary of the historic speech by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan, before the constituent assembly of the newly-created nation (1947).

In 2009, the government decided to dedicate a day to Pakistan’s (Hindu, Christian and Sikh) minorities to honour their service to and sacrifices for the nation.

After recent attacks on members of these groups, this day also provides an opportunity to remember the abuses, intolerance and violations minorities have had to live with.

Social discrimination, say some leaders, "has now become the norm, reinforced by hate speech that leads to violent incidents."

In March 2013, a mob burnt about a hundred Christian homes in Lahore after accusing Christians of blasphemy. In November 2014, a married couple was burnt alive in Punjab for the same reason.

These incidents, say minority leaders, are part of the constant abuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. For them, the government should implement some real changes if it really wants to honour minorities in an honest way.

It must first stop recruiting only non-Muslims as street sweepers. It must remove from school textbooks any content that incites hatred against minorities. It must adopt a policy that awards 20 marks for admission of minority students enrolling in university, as it does with Hafiz Quran students.

Minorities also call for the publication of a report on the use of government funds earmarked for minorities.

The Punjab government allocated 20 million rupees for scholarships, but they were never paid out. In 2015-16 the government increased its minority budget to 1 billion rupees, but the money was never spent.

Finally, marginalised communities require strong action against forced conversions to Islam and a 5 per cent job quota for their members.

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