The recent mob attack on Gurudwara Nankana Sahib is just the latest in a very long list of atrocities inflicted upon minorities in Pakistan ever since it came into being

Can the state policy of a country support persecution and oppression of minorities? Obviously not! State policies must always stand for the rights of the oppressed, and make laws and implement them to safeguard these rights. But when the government itself turns a blind eye to gross violations of its own stated policy, it is nothing but a grotesque joke!

Pakistan’s track record on religious minorities has hit an abysmal low despite big statements by its leadership. There is a glaring gap between the ‘stated policy’ of Pakistan and its ground reality. It’s not even an open secret anymore, but an internationally known fact that minorities are continuously persecuted and oppressed in Muslim majority Pakistan.

Incidents of abduction, rape and forced conversion of Hindu, Sikh and Christian girls are horrifyingly frequent, as are cases of religiously motivated murders and mob attacks. The recent mob attack on Gurudwara Nankana Sahib is just the latest in a very long list of atrocities inflicted upon minorities ever since Pakistan came into being in 1947. According to one report, ‘at least 1000 girls’ are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year!

Religious persecution is compounded by political neglect of minorities, which translates into being deprived of development and employment opportunities.

Pakistan’s minorities who have migrated to India to escape persecution are living witnesses of this terrible ground reality. These migrants relate how safety of women is always a serious concern there, how children from minority families are treated as untouchables and are forced to sit on separate benches in Pakistani government schools, how they are afraid to even perform religious rites or celebrate their festivals.

The Untied States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2019 listed Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Its key findings and recommendations in ‘Pakistan chapter – 2019 Annual Report’ are worth a read:

“In 2018, religious freedom conditions in Pakistan generally trended negative despite the Pakistani government taking some positive steps to promote religious freedom and combat religiously motivated violence and hate speech. During the year, extremist groups and societal actors continued to discriminate against and attack religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims. The government of Pakistan failed to adequately protect these groups, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations; this occurred despite some optimism about the potential for reform under the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Various political parties and leading politicians promoted intolerance against religious minorities during the leadup to the 2018 national elections.

For example, the entry of extremist religious parties into the political arena during the election period led to increased threats and hate speech against religious minorities. Also, abusive enforcement of the country’s strict blasphemy laws continued to result in the suppression of rights for non-Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, and Ahmadis. USCIRF is aware of at least 40 individuals currently sentenced to death or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan, including two Christians, Qaiser and Amoon Ayub, who were sentenced to death in December 2018. Forced conversions of non-Muslims continued despite the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act, which recognizes Hindu family law.

Based on these particularly severe violations, USCIRF again finds in 2019 that Pakistan should be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), as it has found since 2002. In November 2018, the U.S. Department of State for the first time ever designated Pakistan as a CPC. Nevertheless, the State Department immediately issued a waiver against any related sanctions on Pakistan. USCIRF recommends that the State Department redesignate Pakistan as a CPC under IRFA and lift the waiver.”

The US-based Hudson Institute published a research paper in 2013 titled ‘Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities’ by Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of the Parliament of Pakistan.

The author categorically stated that there has been a steady decline in religious tolerance in Pakistan over the last 65 years. “At the time of Pakistan’s birth and the partition of India in 1947, non-Muslim minorities comprised twenty-five percent of the new country’s population, whereas today they only comprise five percent. According to the last census in Pakistan which collected such data, conducted in 1998, Christians constitute 1.59 percent and Hindus 1.60 percent of Pakistan’s population. While much of the “cleansing of the population” took place in major events (partition, around the 1965 and 1971 wars), there has also been a steady rise in incidents involving attacks on both Christians and Hindus in the last decade.

“The small and ever-decreasing Hindu minority has faced a steady barrage of forced conversions and kidnappings, often for ransom. In the last few years there has been an increase in the number of Hindu families migrating or seeking asylum in neighboring India.

“One incident of forced conversion of a young Hindu woman that garnered a lot of media coverage was that of Rinkel Kumari. She was abducted with the help of a ruling-party lawmaker and forced to marry and convert to Islam. This is just one case of abduction and forced religious conversion in Pakistan, with around 20-25 kidnappings and forced conversions of Hindu girls in Sindh every month according to a report by the Asian Human Rights Watch.

“Pakistan’s infamous “Blasphemy Law” has targeted religious minorities on a regular basis. Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman from Punjab, was the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death.

“In August 2010, in the town of Gojra in Punjab, seven Christians were burnt alive, 18 others injured and at least 50 houses set on fire by a mob that accused the victims of blasphemy. As a member of parliament, I recall vividly the calls for help from Gojra’s Christians and the effort that had to be made to get the Punjab provincial government and the army to go in and defend the population from bloodthirsty zealots.”

In April 2019, The Hindu newspaper published a detailed report on the disappearance and conversion of two Hindu sisters from Sindh on the day of Holi on March 20, and the ensuing tensions between India and Pakistan. The report titled ‘In Pakistan, the problem of forced conversions’ quoted from a 2015 report by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan in collaboration with Aurat Foundation that found that at least 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. The report stated that the conversions take place in the Thar region, particularly in the districts of Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, Ghotki and Jacobabad. People convert due to financial and economic reasons, the report said. It identified landlords, extremist religious groups, weak local courts and an insensitive administration as working together.

The article quoted senior Pakistan journalist Shahzeb Jillani as saying that under-age girls from poor farming communities are especially vulnerable to conversions. “Wealthy Muslim farmers see them as fair game for abductions, rape, and prolonged sexual exploitation in captivity. Some notorious religious establishments proudly validate these alleged crimes. State institutions, the police and politicians have encouraged the trend by looking the other way,” he says.

It also quoted the People’s Human Rights Organisation that said seven teenage Hindu girls had been kidnapped from Sindh province in the last two months alone, and forcibly converted to Islam.

In 2011, India Today reported that according to research done by local agencies, “on average 25 Hindu girls are kidnapped and converted every month in Pakistan”. The report said: “Hindus comprised nearly 15 per cent of the country's population in 1947. Now, they are a mere 2 per cent. Many have left, many more have been killed, and others have converted to survive.” The report was titled: ‘Abduction, oppression and forced conversion is fate of Hindus in Pak’
The report also relates how Hindus have to adopt Muslim names to get jobs. “In Peshawar, 62-year-old Jagdish Bhatti's long stint in the army was no insurance against discrimination. His sons Ramesh and Lal had to adopt Muslim names for jobs. Ramesh (now Ahmed Chohan) works in a private multinational bank and Lal (Nadeem Chohan) is a supervisor in a food warehouse owned by the municipal authority in Peshawar district.”

"Throughout our educational career, we enjoyed a good relationship with our Muslim teachers and classmates. However, we were shocked when we were told to adopt Muslim names to get jobs," Ramesh Bhatti told India Today.

BBC News, in a 2007 article titled ‘Hindus feel the heat in Pakistan’, dateline Karachi, while reporting the kidnap and murder of a Hindu engineer stated: “In recent years kidnapping for ransom and armed robberies have multiplied in the area and Hindus have increasingly been the focus of attacks. Many pay protection money regularly to local gangs or influential figures. But in spite of this they are still targeted.”

The report said: “Pakistan is home to some 2.5 million Hindus, 95% of them living in the southern Sindh province. Most are poor, low-caste peasants. However there are also some successful upper caste businessmen. In Sindh, they are a hot commodity for bandits. They lack the protection afforded to local tribal Muslims.”

Christians in Pakistan are also at the receiving end of false blasphemy cases, forced conversions, with girls abducted and forced to marry. Scores of churches have been targeted by terrorists and mobs in Pakistan.
Comprising 1.6% of Pakistan's population, Christians are primarily concentrated around the cities of Lahore. Faisalabad and Karachi. Some are based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The most high-profile victim is Asia Bibi, a Christian from a Punjab village who was accused of blasphemy after an altercation with some Muslim women in 2010. The case highlighted the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws to settle personal rivalries and claimed the lives of then Punjab govemor Selman Careen and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti for defending Asia Bibi.

A recent investigation revealed the trafficking of poor Christian girls to be married off to wealthy Chinese grooms. Some of them had been subjected to torture and domestic abuse.

In an article ‘Why are Pakistan's Christians targeted?’ published in October 2018, BBC News said “Pakistan's Christians, like other religious minorities in the country, have been the target of escalating attacks in recent years”. While giving a list of attacks against the Christian community, the reporter explains “accusations of blasphemy have also often led to mob violence against Christians, while militant Islamists have also targeted the community”.

“Attacks on Pakistan's Christian and Hindu minorities could be part of a militant plan to send a message to the West or embarrass the country's civilian governments when they appear to be too friendly to the West.”
Years ago, scores of Christian families settled in Rimshah, a squatters’ settlement on the outskirts of Islamabad, when a mob of Muslim men, enraged over an alleged act of blasphemy by an 11-year-old Christian girl, tried to kill her and drove them out of their homes.

They named the slum Rimshah, for the 11-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome who was eventually cleared of charges of tearing up pages of an Islamic religious book.

An AP News article just before 2018 elections describes the settlement: “Garbage is piled by the roadside and cinderblock homes have flimsy curtains instead of doors.” The report quoted an independent Christian candidate as saying: “We have so many problems, no education, no health care, no jobs. We don’t even have enough water.”


In an article published in Pakistani newspaper Herald in July 2018, titled ‘Problems with the electoral representation of non-Muslims’, author Asif Aqeel explains in detail how the country’s electoral system skews the development process against non-Muslim Pakistanis.

The report provides numerous examples to showcase how various religious minorities are a neglected lot on all parameters of governance and development. This lack of development, according to many community activists, is partially owed to the electoral system that allows non-Muslim politicians to reach the legislature by indirect means – which means that non-Muslim legislators do not have to worry about being accountable to the public.

The report says: “Pervez Musharraf introduced the current proportional representation system for religious minorities in 2002. Under this system, except for Ahmadis {who have been declared ‘Non-Muslims’ in Pakistan}, non-Muslims can vote and contest elections on general seats but they also have seats reserved for them in the Senate, the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies. These seats are not filled through direct vote but from lists submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan by political parties that get these seats in proportion to the number of directly contested general seats they have in a legislative house. To qualify for a reserved seat, a party must have at least five per cent of the general seats.

The National Assembly has 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims. Six of them are occupied by Hindus, three by Christians and one by a Parsee. Three more members of the house – Phyllis Azeem and Romina Khurshid Alam from Punjab and Reeta Ishwar Lal from Sindh – are non-Muslims but they have been elected to seats reserved for women.
The Senate has four seats reserved for non-Muslims — two each going to Hindus and Christians. Another Hindu senator, Gianchand, is elected on a general seat.”

The report adds that veteran Christian politician Julius Salik had gone to the Supreme Court in 2010 against the proportional electoral system. He stated in his petition that the current system “can be used by the political parties to introduce such people in the National Assembly who will work under the command of the political parties and will have no concern with the betterment of the minorities”.

In its verdict, issued in August 2015, the Supreme Court did not overturn the electoral system but it did say that proportional representation for non-Muslims was against three principles laid down in the Objectives Resolution, which comprises the preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan.

“The critics say these legislators are so dependent on priests for political support that they can never oppose the religious establishment. “They have no roots within their communities,” says Riaz Anjum. “When they are required to show public support to their party leadership, they show religious gatherings, not political ones.”

The report points out that mainstream political parties and policymakers, too, do not seem to take non-Muslim legislators seriously. They were not made part of parliamentary negotiations that led to the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment back in 2009-10. They were also not invited to high level meetings in early 2015 when the National Action Plan against extremism and terrorism was firmed up. The recently passed electoral reform laws have no input from them. Two Christian members of the National Assembly – Asiya Nasir and Tariq C Qaiser – were invited only as observers in 2015 to the consultations for electoral reforms. Their recommendations, however, were brushed aside.”

In 1980s Zia ul-Haq introduced a system under which non-Muslims could vote for only candidates of their own religion. Seats were reserved for minorities in the national and provincial assemblies. But under this system Muslim candidates no longer had any incentive to pay attention to the minorities. This separate electoral system for different religions was described as 'political Apartheid'. Hindu community leader Sudham Chand protested against the system but was murdered. In 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf seized power, this system was abolished, though this has not made much difference to the status of minorities.

Though its appalling record on minorities is exposed internationally, Pakistan shamelessly lies through its teeth and has the gal to sermonize a proudly diverse India where minorities enjoy every right and privilege of a citizen.
A year and a half since Imran Khan was elected as Prime Minister, nothing has changed on ground.

Two months ago Khan grandly announced that his government will make sure that the minorities feel safe, protected and have equal rights in 'New Pakistan'. In the same speech he even had the temerity to say “We will show the Modi government how to treat minorities “!

India, on its part, has accepted with open arms those Pakistani minorities who had migrated into India till 2014 to escape religious persecution in their homeland.

India has been continuously concerned about the kind of atrocities minorities have had to face in Pakistan, and has taken up the issue from time to time.

Now, the international community and media need to play a vital role in pressuring Pakistan to walk the talk. International media, which takes up human rights issues passionately, should take up as a campaign the plight of religious minorities who live a life of hell in Pakistan.