Elections 2013: Did you forget about minorities?
With election season in full swing, political parties have set their stages for the May 11 battle. The media lens has shifted its focus from ‘who has been qualified or disqualified for being saadiq and ameen’, on the pretext of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution, ‘to the coverage of corner meetings and campaigning of different political parties’.
Unfortunately, none of the parties have anything attractive enough in their manifestos to appeal to the non-Muslim voters. All the parties have been singing the same mantra of equal rights, equal representation and equal treatment as shown by all our news channels.
It baffles my mind as to why these parties use the adjective ‘equal’ when it is, without any doubt, beyond their reach to implement it in its entirety (including Muslims and non-Muslims alike) across the board, despite their sincere intentions and wishes to do so.
Let’s take a look at what they have in their manifestos.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)
The party’s chief Imran Khan claims to be the ‘harbinger of change’ and beacon for what he calls a “Naya Pakistan” but, with apologies to PTI trolls, he has got nothing to offer and appeal to voters belonging to religious minorities.
The majority of the poor Christians, particularly in Punjab, who seem to have been born for janitorial services end up in the same profession all of their lives. Hindus, particularly scheduled caste Hindus of Sindh, face the brunt of feudalism and again have nothing new to look forward to in the “Naya Pakistan” being promised by Mr Kaptaan.
Minorities seem to take up the least space in the manifesto of most political parties, and in the case of Mr Kaptaan’s PTI, it is just one item ahead of the “policy for persons with disabilities”.
Forget about repealing the horrendous 295-C (blasphemy law), there is not a single point related to legislation for averting forcible conversion of non-Muslim girls to Islam, or even for the Hindus Marriage Act.
Moreover, in their manifesto they pledge to ensure “due” representation of minorities in all state institutions which in itself contradicts their pledge to ensure equal rights; if equality prevails then why make any other promises? After getting elected to power, will Khan Sahib ensure the induction of Hindus in secret agencies? Or will they still be labelled ‘untrustworthy’ and ineligible to be part of the national spy agencies? What tests will they have to pass to prove their patriotism and loyalty?
Will Imran Khan also ensure that non-Muslim members of the National Assembly will be allowed to attend in-camera briefings on national security given by the director general of the ISI or others?
If Khan Sahib wants to bring about real change for the minorities, the first thing that needs to be on his part is the repealing of section 295-C and the much needed legislation on forcible conversion of non-Muslim girls.
Change can never come without legislation and policy reforms.
Pakistani Peoples’ Party Parliamentarian (PPPP)
Many of us may criticise the PPPP for its failure to deliver to the masses, unanswered corruption, and disrespect of merit and so on, so forth. However a few other things really grind my gears.
The party did not pass any legislation, particularly pertaining to the issues of minorities — not even the much talked-about Hindus Marriage Act Bill. What were the major obstacles that hindered the party to do a paper work job? This is beyond my understanding.
The party members were brisk at making legislations to have life-time perks, but when it came to legislation related to forcible conversion or others issues, they did not do anything. The party did not even dare to oust the much-maligned Mian Mitho from the party; who is allegedly involved in the forcible conversion of Hindu girls.
It has, however, been noted several times that party chief, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has condemned the murder of Punjab’s ex-governor Salman Taseer and the federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Also, statements have been issued in his name condemning forcible conversion. But the so-called liberal and secular party did not take any concrete measure to curb the menace of forcible conversion or the continual misuse of blasphemy law.
In its 2013 manifesto, the party has given nothing new except that it will “build consensus for special procedures in the law to prevent forced conversions”. The party has also vowed to “ensure equal opportunities through progressive legislation and policy reforms”.
One really wonders what they did about this during their five years in power and whether those results reflect the next five years if voted to power.
Being the so-called secular and liberal party, and after the sacrifices of its governor and minorities minister, it should have taken a stand and boldly repealed the controversial blasphemy law.
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N)
The N-League is considered to be swinging between being centrist and rightist. However, in its manifesto, ambitious to be in power for the third time, the PML-N has pledged to make legislation on the most important issues like the Hindus Marriage Act and necessary legislative measures to ensure there is no forced religious conversion in the guise of marriage.
Though the party has promised to give official leave and advance salary to government employees belonging to religious minorities, it should have announced an official leave for all so that the Muslim majority would could also become familiar with the religious festivals of the minorities; this could help in submerging the divides and giving unity a chance. It will also develop a sense of inclusiveness to the marginalised minority.
Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM)
Led by their London chief, the party still has its secular threads intact despite all odds. The party has time and again condemned the forcible conversion of religious minorities and raised a strong voice in favour of minority rights.
In their 2013 manifesto, they have not openly pledged to repeal the blasphemy. The manifesto, however, does say that there will be “repealing of all existing discriminatory laws against women and non-Muslims”.
MQM has also vowed to favour abolishing the term “minorities” for the non-Muslim population of Pakistan and believes that they should be elected directly through general elections.
In a nutshell, if our political parties are serious about bringing the marginalised minorities to the mainstream then they should do something more substantial than just laying out mere rhetoric and making hollow pledges.
These are no longer persuasive.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.