Thousands March for Rights of Religious Minorities in Pakistan

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Minority Day reminds Pakistanis of the religious freedom envisioned by the father of the nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Some 5,000 people, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, marched through Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, on Aug. 11 demanding equal rights for religious minorities in this Islamic country.

They shouted slogans demanding measures against discrimination and violence based on faith amid escalating complaints of Hindus and Christians facing harassment, rape, abduction, and forced conversion from fanatic Muslims.

The marchers also demanded legislation and enforcement of existing criminal laws to ensure justice for religious minorities, who together form less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s some 230 million people, mostly Muslims.

The march was an “encouraging sign because all religious minority communities, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs attended,” said Safina Javed, a Christian minority rights activist and organizer.

“We also got great support from Muslims as well who were equally part of the planning and showed solidarity to our demands,” she told UCA News.

Sheem Kermani, a Muslim celebrity and a march organiser told UCA News the “state has failed” religious minorities and so “all Pakistani people should “should stand together for human dignity and basic rights of all citizens of the country.”

“Christians and Hindus are our brothers and sisters. As a society, we should protect them and ask the state to play its role. We need an inclusive Pakistan. We don’t want a country, which would be divided on the basis of religion, class, creed, ethnicity or gender,” he said.

Several Muslim celebrities and prominent journalists joined the march. Some of them also supported the march by circulating videos asking people to join the march. Some journalists also helped organize television and telecast television programs, organizers said.

Nazia Sardar, a Catholic minority rights activist, told UCA News that the march “was significant as it demanded the state to refrain from decisions that exclude minority people from the mainstream development.”

Religious minorities in Pakistan observe August 11 as “minority day,” aiming to remind the state of the religious freedom envisioned by the nation’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Javed said.

Jinnah’s inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on Aug. 11, 1947, said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

At the end of the rally, some of the leaders addressed the gathering, explaining the oppression religious minorities face in the country.

Christian Pastor Ghazala Shafique, a Protestant minister, stressed the need to end “bias and hate” against religious minorities.

Christian leaders say their people are unjustly accused of violating the nation’s blasphemy law, which can be punished with a death sentence in the country. Often such allegations come out of petty quarrels, they said.

Speakers also said underage and young women of Hindus and Christians are frequently kidnapped, converted to Islam and married to Muslims against their will. Police often ignore such crimes and courts produce partisan judgments fearing backlash from radical Muslims, they said.

The March was attended by various civil society organizations and some prominent political figures such as Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (junior), grandson of former President and Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Source: UCA News