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MCP condemns attack on a Sindhi journalist


LAHORE, 13 Oct: The Media Commission expressed shock at the harassment of Mahesh Kumar and attack on his car. Kumar, chief editor of Daily Sindh Hyderabad and a member of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Hyderabad chapter, went to the press club at night where some unidentified people opened fire on his car. Later, he was threatened on phone of dire consequences.

Such harassment to an old friend of SAFMA, who belongs to a minority group, is highly condemnable, said I. A Rehman, president of MCP. The obvious rise in attacks on the journalist is a worrying sign and gives more strength to impunity. We call upon Karachi Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to investigate this matter and reasons behind the harassment of journalists

On a positive note, the MCP welcomes the unconditional release of Rehmatullah Dawar after 61-day captivity.

 

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Quaid’s view of minorities


Dawn
By I.A. Rehman
Saturday, 14 Aug, 2010

Quite a few groups and individuals wish to resurrect what they describe as Jinnah’s Pakistan. The argument in support of the effort is that decades of disregard for the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision of Pakistan has landed the country into one crisis after another and its future cannot be guaranteed without a return to its foundational premises.

Although the Quaid’s views on Pakistan’s ideal (he usually avoided the expression ‘ideology’) have not escaped controversy, there is substantial agreement among historians and analysts that he stood for a constitution framed by none else than the representatives of the people, a system of government that he described as people’s democracy, and full citizenship rights for the minorities.

These conclusions are mostly derived from the Quaid’s Aug 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly after he had been elected its president. While conscious and democratically-minded citizens have always held that in this speech the Quaid defined the essential and unalterable features of Pakistan’s polity, a few elements have tried to minimise its importance.

They have argued that the Quaid’s Aug 11 speech was not in harmony with the ideas he had consistently advanced. The Quaid-i-Azam had himself pointed out that he could not make “any well-considered pronouncement at this stage” and had said “a few things as they occur to me”. Through these observations he defined the priority tasks for the government: maintenance of law and order, “so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state”; elimination of the poison of bribery and corruption; eradication of black-marketing; and suppression of the evil of nepotism and jobbery.

These views had not been expressed by the Quaid for the first time. They had inspired his frequent attacks on the colonial administration in the course of his long and illustrious career as a parliamentarian. What followed his observations on governance was new because he was speaking about the state of Pakistan that was to come into being three days later. And what he said was this:

“Now if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor … If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.”

These words and his reference to the Muslims’ ceasing to be Muslims and the Hindus’ ceasing to be Hindus in the same speech, constituted the Quaid’s solution to the issue of religious minorities that had undermined the struggle for the subcontinent’s freedom for many decades.

Although communal differences had been accentuated during the 1857 uprising, the minority question acquired a new shape when Muslim leaders, Sir Syed in particular, gave vent to their fears of rule by elected representatives. For several decades they sought safeguards to which they were entitled as a minority. The failure of these attempts led the Muslim League to abandon the status of a minority and claim the rank of nationhood.

However, the formulation of the demand for a new nation-state called Pakistan did not end the minority issue. The authors of the Lahore Resolution of 1940 had themselves realised this when, after asking for the creation of independent states in Muslim-majority areas, they said:

“That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units (provinces) and in the regions (i.e. the Muslim zones) for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them; and in other parts of India where the Musalmans are in a minority, adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for them and other minorities, for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.”Soon after the Lahore Resolution was adopted questions about the fate of non-Muslims in the Muslim-majority provinces (zones) began to be raised. A group of Sikh representatives met the Quaid, and what did he tell them? Besides assuring the Sikhs of all the protection a religious minority was entitled to in a civilised state he offered them the status of an autonomous region within Punjab and told them that they would be better off in Pakistan than in India.

Those who argue that the Quaid’s defence of the non-Muslims’ right to equal status with Muslims in his Aug 11 speech was not a well-considered formulation may read the account of his press conference in Delhi a month earlier.
Asked to make a brief statement on the problem of minorities as Pakistan’s governor-general-designate, he said: “I shall not depart from what I have said repeatedly with regard to the minorities. Every time I spoke about the minorities, I meant what I said and what I said I meant. The minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion or their faith or belief will be protected in every way possible. Their life and property will be secure.

“There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their property and their culture. They will be in all respects treated as citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste, colour, religion or creed. They will have all their rights and privileges and also the obligations of citizenship. Therefore, the minorities have their responsibilities also and they will play their part in the affairs of the state. As long as the minorities are loyal to the state and owe true allegiance to it and as long as I have any power, they need have no apprehension of any kind.”

When pressed further on specific issues, such as separate electorates, he said: “I cannot go into these details. The actual provisions with regard to protection and safeguards can only be discussed in the two constituent assemblies in which the minorities are represented.”

The Quaid was asked to comment on the recent statements and the speeches by certain Congress leaders to the effect that if the Hindus in Pakistan are treated badly, they will treat Muslims in Hindustan worse. The answer was:

“I hope they will get over this madness and follow the line I am suggesting. It is no use picking up the statements of this man here or that man there. You must remember that in every society there are crooks, cranks and what I call mad people in every part of the world, and this is hardly the place where we can say, ‘what about this man’s statement and what about that man’s statement’.”

It was at this press conference that the Quaid-i-Azam was asked: “Will Pakistan be a secular or a theocratic state?” His reply was: “You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”

A correspondent suggested that a theocratic state meant a state where only people of a particular religion, for example Muslims, could be full citizens and non-Muslim would not be full citizens.

The Quaid said: “Then it seems to me that what I have already stated is like throwing water on a duck’s back. For goodness sake, get out of your head the nonsense that is being talked about. What this theocratic state means I do not understand.”

Another correspondent suggested that the questioner meant a state run by maulanas. The Quaid replied: “What about the government run by pandits in Hindustan?” When you talk of democracy I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learnt democracy 13 centuries ago.”

It should not be difficult for any independent observer to conclude that even before Aug 11, 1947 the founder of Pakistan had a clear thesis on the rights of the minorities. The core elements of this thesis were:

— The Lahore Resolution called for mandatory safeguards drawn up in consultation with them.

— In July 1947 the Quaid made a pledge to the effect that the Constituent Assembly, in which the minorities are represented, will lay down safeguards in the constitution.

— Democracy is not incompatible with Islam, hence belief cannot be invoked to curtail the rights of the minorities.

In his Aug 11 speech the Quaid-i-Azam took a radical step beyond unexplained safeguards and called for excluding religion from the affairs of the state and offered the non-Muslim citizens complete equality with their Muslim compatriots. This may well have been the result of his reflection on what had happened between July 13 and Aug 11, 1947, especially the madness of communal slaughter and the exchange of population between the Indian and Pakistani Punjabs, a course he had ruled out in July.

The greatest irony about this address of historic importance is that it is generally believed to have addressed only the minorities’ rights. This is only partly true. The Quaid’s words were directed at all citizens of Pakistan; the progress of the entire population depended on burying the past (communal politics). What he clearly meant was that discrimination against the minorities would impede Pakistan’s progress. Thus, in Jinnah’s Pakistan the rights and interests of the minorities will be protected by the constitution and the law not only as something due to them but also as an insurance of the state’s integrity.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Interview: I. A. Rehman, Secretary-General, HRCP


Newsline

I. A. Rehman

Q: You have been directly involved in supporting human rights in Pakistan for decades. It seems as though the rights of religious minorities have diminished over the years. Is this true?

A: It is true that the rights of religious minorities have shrunk over the past couple of decades. There are several main reasons. Firstly, the majority community (Muslim) has been following a more and more conservative interpretation of its belief, and the seeds of an exclusivist (hence intolerant) belief sown by Zia-ul-Haq have produced a bumper crop. Next, the wars in Afghanistan have thrown up a militant force that is extremely intolerant of any worldview other than its own; it uses violence to suppress all ‘others’ (non-Muslims, Ahmedis, Shias, Barelvis, et al). Thirdly, the political parties dare not distance themselves from extremists. Also, the government has neither the will nor the capacity to prevent persecution of minorities. The religious minorities are considered part of western or Indian communities or their sympathisers and are increasingly targeted in reaction to what is perceived as the West’s crusade against Islam or Muslim people. And finally, the rise of the new Right after the retreat of the Left in the West-ruled world has produced a backlash.

Q: How does the situation for religious minorities compare, for instance, to the current state of women’s rights and children’s rights?

A: Women and children are exploited. In some parts of the country they are gradually winning their rights while in other parts they are losing the rights they had till some years ago (namely, girls’ right to education). But Muslim women and children are not as badly off as minorities as they are not under a threat of liquidation. The non-Muslim women and children share the fate of their menfolk and are even more vulnerable than the latter.

Q: In many cases of violence against religious minorities, there is mob violence: people are worked into frenzy over an alleged case of blasphemy and buildings are burned, people are killed. Can the government do anything to fight this belief in mob ‘justice’ and to help instil the sanctity of the rule of law and every citizen’s right to a fair trial?

A: Mob violence has become the rule for two main reasons. Firstly, society has become more intolerant than before and has been thoroughly brutalised. Secondly, the clerics, judges, et al., have consistently propagated the view that the people have a right to kill blasphemers. The government is unable to stop such violence as its functionaries have been infected by the virus of intolerance and share the mob’s views; the government is afraid of the conservative population’s backlash; and the government’s writ has become weak in all areas.

Q: Our police and judicial system has been infected too?

A: Yes, the community police and courts have been infected. Ahmedis are killed in broad daylight. Eyewitnesses do not depose against the criminals. The police are not keen to investigate cases. Policemen themselves have killed blasphemy suspects. The system has lost the capacity to punish those who persecute the minorities.

Q: Is it possible to have “transparent and fair investigations” after attacks on minorities when violence and intimidation are often used as a tool by extremists to coerce the police, politicians and even the victims?

A: No. The extremists do resort to violence and intimidation to coerce the police, politicians, courts and even the victims. However, except for the victims, all others are amenable to slight pressure because they themselves are in various stages of conversion to minority-bashing.

Q: Has the HRCP succeeded in providing any relief to minorities vis-à-vis any changes in laws and any instances of usurpation of their rights?

A: I must clarify that not all acts of violence upon and persecution of minorities are rooted in laws and many of them can be dealt with under the law. HRCP campaigned for the abolition of separate electorates and this objective has been largely achieved. HRCP (backed by other NGOs) also succeeded in blocking the move to have a column for religion on identity cards, HRCP has consistently called for withdrawal of the blasphemy law and Ordinance XX of Zia-ul-Haq.

Q: From whom has the HRCP faced the most threats and intimidation in this regard?

A: The biggest threats to HRCP have come from extremists flying religious standards.

Q: Before the attacks on the Ahmedi community in Lahore in May, authorities in Punjab were told about threats against the community but no extra protection was given. Should the Punjab government be held indirectly responsible for the slaughter and in cases like this should people file cases against the government for a dereliction of duty in the hope of setting some type of precedent?

A: Yes, the Punjab government had been warned. It can fairly be indicted for the slaughter. It is doubtful if anyone will risk his life by filing a case against the government. You have no idea of the animus against the Ahmedis: hospitals are even afraid of disclosing that they have treated the wounded Ahmedis. Try to persuade the media to call the Ahmedis killed “shaheeds” or even to stop calling them Qadianis and you will find out where you are living.

Q: In terms of the Ahmedi community, it seems like it is more than a case of freedom of religion. There is economic discrimination promoted by the government via land auctions where those who oppose the finality of the Prophethood are barred from participating. How can this be legal?

A: Of course, it is much more than a case of freedom of belief. The economic, social and political motives have always been there. The government policies have fuelled discrimination. Further, Ahmedi-baiting is lucrative business. For quite a few, persecution of Ahmedis is a means of living and gaining social influence.

Q: What progress has been made in the fight against forced conversions and forced marriages in the case of Hindus?

A: Not much progress. In most cases efforts to recover forcibly converted and married girls fail. As a Hindu advocate puts it, the police, the courts and the community at large lack the capacity to do justice to victims. There are only a couple of exceptions over the past many years. Justice is possible where society and police have not totally given up their secular ideals.

Q: There have also been cases of land grabbing by way of destroying Hindu temples, Sikh property and Christian churches, and then occupying the land. How has the government addressed this problem and what solutions has the HRCP spearheaded?

A: Land grabbing is a national pastime. The government leads the way by seizing non-Muslim properties attached to shrines, churches, temples and public welfare trusts. The official managers of these properties are known for corruption. HRCP has not been able to adequately address this problem and it is one of the issues the newly formed HRCP working group on the rights of communities vulnerable because of belief has been asked to take up. As a matter of principle these properties should be restored to the original owners. As for trusts, their incomes must be spent on achieving the objectives their founders had set for themselves.

Q: Do minority MNAs and MPAs play any role in alleviating the problems of their respective communities or are they merely token representatives?

A: The minority MNAs / MPAs are not taken seriously by the government and it can easily please them. In the given situation, they do try to help their communities in the feudal way – that is, people close to them benefit more from their patronage/benevolence than those who are at a distance from them (just like the pure Muslim legislators).

Q: What initiatives have the federal and provincial ministries of minority affairs implemented in improving the situation for minorities in the country in the past decade?

A: In the past decade the most significant step has been the annulment of the system of separate electorates (not yet fully implemented).

Q: The blasphemy law is misused to persecute minorities or frame people to settle personal feuds. In its 2009 report on the state of human rights, the HRCP has recommended that the blasphemy law be repealed. Is this likely, and what would need to happen in both the public and political spheres for this recommendation to gather momentum and strength and be implemented?

A: Case studies have established abuse of the blasphemy law for petty, often personal, ends. HRCP is consistent in demanding repeal of this law because it is damaging Islam and causing havoc to the majority community’s mindset besides making the lives of minorities utterly hazardous. The repeal of the law in the near future is unlikely. This will be possible only when a large number of people (Muslims) realise the prohibitive cost of keeping this law active.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2010 in Blasphemy

 

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