God help you if you are a non-Muslim in a country like Pakistan.
In the land, driven by religious obsession, higher values such as democracy, debate, compassion, and respect for diversity, seem pie in the sky — all thanks to a punishing, patriarchal theocracy.
Discrimination against minorities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is not new. Abduction of Hindu and Sikh girls and their forcible conversion in Pakistan makes headlines in India nearly every month.
However, what doesn’t make regular headlines in India is how the Islamic Republic's Constitution plays an important part in the discrimination against minorities.
The Constitution of Pakistan declares that Islam is the state religion and gives the minorities the right to follow their religion.
But, as the Preamble of Pakistan’s Constitution says, the state will observe the “principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam”.
Here’s how the minorities are discriminated against:
One, the Pew Research Center says that Pakistan is among the 30 countries of the world where the head of state and government should be from a specific religion — in this case, Islam.
According to Article 41 of the original Constitution of Pakistan, which was adopted in 1956, one has to be a Muslim to become the President of the country.
In the Constitution which the country adopted in 1973, the same requirement was made for the post of Prime Minister.
Two, in any liberal democracy, the right to vote is the basic tool to empower citizens. In a way, the right to vote helps citizens to raise their voice on issues they face in daily life and express their opinion. At the same time, those citizens who don’t have this right can easily be avoided by political parties or the state itself because they are not ‘vote-banks’.
Pakistan’s former dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, had introduced this system in the 1980s.
It was opposed by Hindu groups and they started a resistance movement against such an electoral system. Sudham Chand, who led the campaign to spread awareness and fight against the separate electorate system, was eliminated by Islamists in broad daylight.
His murder was a message to those who were demanding basic rights.
In essence, Pakistan’s minorities had the right to vote, but their votes were largely inconsequential. That this continued for decades tells the nature of the Pakistani state and its lack of willingness to curb minority rights.
Three, the Council of Islamic Ideology.
This council is the constitutional body of Pakistan, which was set up by Ayub Khan. Its function is to give legal advice on Islamic issues to provincial and federal governments and the senate. The government generally appoints Maulanas and Islamic scholars as members of this council.
Whenever a Bill is passed by a provincial Assembly and/or senate, this council comes into the picture. It often plays stonewall for Bills deemed ‘unIslamic’. This is the same council which advised Pakistani husbands to ‘lightly beat’ their wives.
This example is enough to show how regressive and barbaric the organisation is.
Such an attempt was made and became successful in the November of 2016. Anyone interested in Pakistani affairs knows that Sindh has the highest population of Hindus and they are being forcibly converted there. To stop that conversion, Sindh province Assembly passed a Bill.
The Bill was sent to the Governor so it could become law. But the Council of Islamic Ideology blocked the Bill by labelling it ‘unIslamic’ and ‘unconstitutional’.
This is how fundamentalism is institutionalised in Pakistan. The Pakistani Constitution and system relies on Sharia to a great extent. Another research done by Pew Research Center shows us that 81 per cent of Pakistanis believe that Sharia law is the ‘word of God’ and can’t be changed in any condition.
The mentality of society can be reflected in the elected representatives and the laws passed by them.
This is nothing but the tip of the iceberg. What minorities in Pakistan regularly face owing to their religious beliefs cannot be fathomed by those sitting in lands where rights gain primacy over duties. And this is fact, not fiction!