Christians unhappy as ‘affluent’ Hindus get major share in reserved seats


PPP’s top priority for Punjab is a Hindu even though Christians form a majority in the province

LAHORE: Christians in Pakistan have expressed serious reservations over the ‘surprising’ decision of all mainstream political parties to put members of the Hindu community on top priority of their lists for reserved minority seats in the national and provincial legislatures despite the Hindus “being much lesser in number than Christians” in the country.

Expressing dismay over the ‘shocking’ development, community leaders said not a single Christian was nominated for general elections on any national or provincial assembly seats in Sindh, while three Hindus have been nominated for the provincial assembly.

According to a report in a local English newspaper, a similar concern was expressed by ‘Dalit’ or Scheduled Caste Hindus for being “ignored” by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh despite the fact that the upper caste Hindus hardly make 20 per cent of the total Hindu population.

By June 11, all political parties submitted their priority lists for the reserved seats and the lists for the National Assembly show that priority was given to the upper caste Hindus.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has nominated Dr Darshan Lal, Khel Das Kohistani and Isphanyar Bhandra. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has nominated Lal Chand Malhi, Shunila Ruth and Dr Ramesh Kumar Venkwani, respectively.

The Grand Democratic Alliance has nominated Naresh Kumar, Oam Parkash Khatri and Rawantee Raj Kumar, respectively, while the Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) has nominated Dr Mohan Manjani, Rakesh Kumar and Suleman.

The PPP has nominated Ramesh Lal, Naveed Amir Jeeva and Imran Afaque Athwal on the first top three positions.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is expected to get one seat. Interestingly, all top three candidates on the MMA priority list are Christians—James Iqbal, Parvaiz Masih and Asiya Nasir, respectively.

On June 19, KP Christians members of the PTI protested against their party’s decision to nominate a Hindu on the top priority on a reserved seat despite the fact that Christians are the only sizable minority in the province.

Similarly, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has also nominated Ranjeet Singh, Fareed Chand Singh and Askar Parvaiz, respectively, for KP.

The PPP’s top priority for Punjab is a Hindu despite the fact that Christians are the main religious minority residing in the province.

This is exactly the same situation that pushed the Christians in West Pakistan in 1950’s to demand the separate electorate system when Hindus, esp. the upper caste Hindus, were getting higher representation through the joint electorate system.

Last two terms of the National Assembly harboured the same reservations.

The National Assembly (2013-2018) that ended on this May 31 had six upper caste Hindus: Dr Darshan, Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Bhagwan Das, Ramesh Lal, Sanjay Parwani and Bhagwan Das. There were three Christians: Asiya Nasir, Tariq C Qaiser and Khalil George, and one Parsee Asphanyar Bhandra.

The second last National Assembly (2008-2013) had seven upper caste Hindus: Bhagwan Das, Darshan Lal, Kishan Chand Parwani, Lal Chand Malhi, Mahesh Kumar, Manwer Lal, and Ramesh Lal, one scheduled caste Khatu Mal Jeewan, and two Christians Akram Masih Gill and Nelson Azeem.

Based on sixth population census, the ten National Assembly seats were divided as four for Hindus, four for Christians, one for Parsees, Sikhs and other religious minorities and one was reserved for Ahmedis.

Sindh’s former PML-N minority wing leader Nauman Tanveer from Karachi said that advocating equality without equitable distribution of resources means nothing. He said there were many Christians who disagree that their number was lesser than Hindus and they even did not agree with the census results.

Historically, the Jati or upper caste Hindus have been far less in number than Christians and scheduled castes in Pakistan.

Former Hyderabad Press Club president Jai Parkash Moorani said the scheduled castes were introduced by the British and it included two Muslim castes, so they have nothing to do with religion.

“The caste system should be seen as sects and not as different faiths. The Jati Hindus and scheduled castes belong to one religion and their population should be counted as one. In this way, Hindus are the biggest minority in the country.”

Many minority members find this system with additional seats without merit. They believe performance, ability, political acumen are not to help make into the priority list but close contact with the party heads and financial strength of the candidate.

Former member of Balochistan Assembly William Jan Barkat told Pakistan Today, “Though Christians were loyal to their parties, the parties prefer the candidates who can finance their electoral campaigns when it comes to elections.”

Veteran Christian politician Julius Salak said that in the current electoral system only those minority members were brought to fore who had connections with the party heads.

George Clement was an MP twice when there was separate electorate system in Pakistan. He had served the PTI hoping to be on one of the top three positions but he is on the seventh, which means he is not coming back to the assembly again.  But a Hindu candidate, Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankawani, after staying for five years in PML-N’s government, joined the PTI in April and got the third slot.

“All top positions were given to financially strong Hindus,” he said.

Voice of Minorities Pakistan Chairman Aamir Bashir, based in Multan, said his party has boycotted the elections because the minority representation makes no sense. “We demand that all these seats reserved for minorities be abolished because they are not contributing anything good to the system.”

Tahir Mehdi, a political analyst, told this scribe that the only possible way to improve the situation of minorities is to abolish these reserved seats. “Any representation system based on religion will strengthen minority-majority divide. Once these seats are abolished then political parties will have to give representation on general seats.”