While many observed the National Minorities Day across Pakistan on Saturday acknowledging the contributions of minority communities to the nation, several critics denounced the observance saying minorities are still mistreated and discriminated against in the majority Muslim nation.
The August 11 observance commemorates the speech of the father of the Pakistani nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 in which he expressed his dream for a "multi-religious" Pakistan in which everyone had the same rights and duties.
Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic federal minister for minorities who was assassinated in March 2011, had campaigned to have Aug. 11 declared as National Minorities Day in 2009.
Promises and assurances
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) of Lahore, in cooperation with the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) and the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF), organized a meeting on Friday on the theme, “Minorities’ rights: Moving beyond promises and assurances”.
The meeting, that included several Muslims, proposed a list of measures for the authorities to implement. They include: incorporating Jinnah’s speech in Pakistan’s Constitution, establishing a National Minorities Commission, having the government work out agreements with minorities like the Bahais, Parsees, Sikhs, etc., adapting the marriage law to human rights standard, allowing non-Muslim youth to study their faith and not Islam, and setting up a committee with the power to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry established after the massacre of Christians in Gojra in 2009.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference teamed up with other Christian NGOs in Lahore on Aug. 11 to screen a documentary called "Why should we celebrate 11th August?"
Imran Khan, the star cricketer turned politician, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the most votes in the recent national elections said that his party would keep its “promise of complete religious freedom and equal opportunities for minorities to ensure their progress and development.”
Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain also addressed a ceremony in Islamabad on the eve of the National Minorities Day, reiterating the pledge that Pakistani society will continue its efforts to protect rights of minorities and promote religious harmony. However, he said that negative propaganda about less opportunities for minorities in the country should be stopped.
Still mistreated and discriminated against
Meanwhile, Archbishop Sebastian Shah of Lahore rejected the August 11 observance of National Minorities Day claiming minorities are still mistreated and discriminated against.
Instead, he presided over a Diversity Day programme organized in Lahore by the Human Friends Organization on August 11.
Archbishop Shah said the observance should rather be called Day of Equality, as “we aren't getting our social rights and we need to see the rule of law applied.”
Other critics of the Minorities Day, including Joseph Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, have also denounced the Minorities Day saying the call of Jinnah has gone unheeded.
"We are boycotting this day altogether. Increasing religious intolerance and the forced conversion of young women from minority communities has resulted in the migration of minorities to other countries," Francis said recently.
"The constitution effectively makes us third-grade citizens and bars non-Muslims from becoming president or prime minister," he said
Archbishop Shah said Jinnah never used the word "minority" or "majority" in his speech.
On August 14, Pakistan marks its 72nd Independence Day.