ASIA/PAKISTAN – Blasphemy, forced conversions, education system: weak points for the rights of religious minorities

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ASIA/PAKISTAN – Blasphemy, forced conversions, education system: weak points for the rights of religious minorities

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – “The fundamental rights of religious minorities in Pakistan are of great concern, as can be seen in the area of ​​blasphemy, in religious conversions, in the application of labor regulations, in the ‘education’ by a report by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), which conducts a survey of the social, political and religious situation of non-Muslim groups in Pakistani society. Highlighting the key points of the state of rights in 2021, the CSJ, led by the Catholic layman Peter Jacob, in the report sent to Agenzia Fides, focuses on four important issues for the effective realization of freedom of religion in Pakistan: abuse of blasphemy laws; the increase in forced conversions: the census of religious minorities; problems of the reform of the education system. On the first point, the abuse of the blasphemy law, notes the text, remained persistent in 2021. At least 84 people have been charged under the articles of the Pakistani penal code which constitute the “blasphemy law”. Three people were extrajudicially killed, including the lynching of Sri Lankan national Priyanka Kumara in Sialkot. These figures, it is noted, are based on cases reported in the media, verified by the Center for Social Justice. “However, these data are not exhaustive due to the limited means, the frequency of the incidents, so the number of victims can be considerably higher”, reports the Center. In 2021, the highest number of cases were recorded in Sheikhupura (13), followed by Lahore (11) and Kasur (10), all districts in North Punjab. The 80% incidence in 2021 is held by the Punjab province. The largest number of blasphemy victims (45) are of the Muslim faith, followed by Ahmadis (25), while seven cases are recorded against Hindus and seven against the Christian community. “However, it should be remembered that the Christian and Hindu minorities together represent 3.5% of the population. And the presence of abuse, threats and violence leaves serious repercussions in the lives of these communities,” notes the CSJ.
The organization calls on the government to approve legislation that provides specific protections against the abuse of blasphemy laws and to prosecute those who make false accusations of blasphemy and/or extrajudicial executions.
The second point examined concerns the incidence of cases of forced conversions. Although the government has set up an ad hoc “Parliamentary Commission”, in 2021 the number of incidents has risen to at least 78 reported cases (39 cases involving Hindu girls, 38 Christian girls or women and one Sikh). The highest number of cases (40) are reported in Sindh province, followed by 36 in Punjab, while one case in each province has been reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
According to the CSJ, this increase is due to impunity which increases the likelihood of crimes against the weakest and most vulnerable. “Faced with the government’s inaction, the perpetrators of these acts use the pretext of religious conversions to cover up crimes such as the abduction of girls belonging to religious minorities”, notes the CSJ.
The third point of the Report sent to Agenzia Fides notes that the last national population census carried out in 2017 in Pakistan became controversial before the announcement of the final results in 2021. According to the results of the census, the population of religious minorities is dropped from 0.73% in 1998 to 3.52% in 2017 (a drop of 0.21% in 19 years). Faced with general population growth, the evolution of religious minorities is surprisingly asymmetrical. The Christian population would have decreased by 0.32%. The CSJ urges the government to postpone the conduct and formalization of the popular census until April 2023 to allow adequate preparation, with an adequate prior sensitization campaign on the necessary registration. “It is necessary to break the ‘culture of secrecy’ in data processing in order to build trust between all sections of the population,” the report said.
The fourth and last point, which is very important, concerns the education system. In 2021, the government set up a “Unique National Curriculum” for grades 1 to 5. “The general educational approach has brought public education closer to the religious education of madrasas”, he notes, while “the content of education is heavily loaded with lessons on the Islamic religion, which does not contribute to the objective of religious tolerance and social cohesion”, denounces the CSJ. Public school textbooks would violate article 22 of the Pakistani Constitution, which guarantees that: “No person attending any educational institution shall be bound to receive religious instruction, take part in any religious ceremony or attend any religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or cult relates to a religion other than one’s own”. “Students from religious minorities are deprived of the study of their own religion”, and the observations made on this subject remain pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. year, recalls the report, which calls on the authorities to respect Article 22 of the Constitution of Pakistan. . The CSJ also notes that the “Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Act”, amended in 2020, confuses the objectives of “public education” with those of “religious education”. Additionally, the Punjab Department of School Education has announced the recruitment of 70,000 Islamic teachers, while there is a huge shortage of math, science and social science teachers. (AP) (Agenzia Fides, 02/23/2022)


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