Time for the minorities to wake up

Published: July 6, 2011
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Significant changes in the political system are needed to give religious minorities their due rights. PHOTO:AFP

Arguably, the communities that have suffered the worst kind of discrimination in Pakistan over the past decade are religious minorities. Hundreds of thousands of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and followers of other faiths have been up against not only a ‘silent’ hatred by many Muslims but, in recent years, they have also faced the rage of religious extremists.

Several external and internal factors, such as attempts by a powerful civil-military establishment to create a theocratic state and a ‘misdirected’ quest to seek dominance over our neighbours, appear to be contributing to the state of affairs we find ourselves in.

But one reason behind religious minorities being deprived of their political rights and due role in the governing machinery has been the poor quality of leadership from the community. Most of the so-called leaders of the downtrodden minorities representing them in institutions like parliament emerged either as a result of their personal manoeuvring or they were just the outcome of ‘accidental’ factors in Pakistan’s polity.

For instance, last week in the National Assembly the prime minister more or less scolded the minorities minister, who along with some fellow MPs was protesting the devolution of his ministry to the provinces. He was told to “behave like a minister” or else he would face the sack.

Gill is the perfect example of a leader among the minorities emerging accidentally and not through an electoral process in which the community is empowered to choose its leader.

What the situation now demands from the minorities themselves and from us the supporters of their right is to seek significant changes in the political system under which they are given representation in parliament. The rules of the game have to be changed and that has to be done now. It is time for all minorities to wake up and get rid of their non-elected representatives.

One possible option can be what was first envisaged by the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1996 when minorities would have a ‘double voting’ right. BB’s electoral reform 1996 was intended to empower non-Muslims with the right to cast votes for general parliamentary seats as well as for those reserved for their own communities. The minorities should try and bring about this change.

Zia Khan

Zia Khan

A reporter for The Express Tribune based in Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.