LAHORE: Access to quality education and effective political participation can help the minority communities of Pakistan in overcoming the challenges of poverty and illiteracy, according to a study.
The study titled “Index of Religious Diversity and Inclusion” authored by journalist and researcher Asif Aqeel with assistance from former lawmaker Advocate Mary Gill, Basil Dogra and Sunil Gulzar notes that a number of reports on non-Muslim communities often treat them as one homogenous group.
“Religious minorities are actually diverse not just in terms of their religion but in their culture, history, role in the creation of Pakistan, economic status, educational level, racial profiling, level of social acceptance, legal restrictions in profession of their faith, language, ethnicity, occupation and geographic dispersion etc,” Aqeel said while giving a presentation on the report at the Center for Public Policy & Governance (CPPG) of Forman Christian College University (FCCU) on Friday.
“Hence, most of one-size-fits-all statements and recommendations on these non-Muslims are often not free of error,” he added.
The report provides a brief history of Pakistan in the context of minorities and then expands on various dimensions of their lives: neighbourhoods, worship places, graveyards and cremation grounds, institutions, experiences of violence and terrorism, harassment, forced conversion and marriages, freedom of belief, anti-blasphemy laws, socioeconomic conditions, stigmas, political participation and migration.
Elaborating on some keys findings of the study, Aqeel said that since 9/11, terrorism indiscriminately hit every section of society in Pakistan, including religious minorities, but Christians suffered the highest number of suicidal attacks. The Christian and Scheduled Caste Hindus suffered challenges like bonded labor, illegal settlement, lack of graveyards, high level of illiteracy, poverty, ghettoized living and stigmas like “dark” colored and “untouchable”, it added.
CPPG founder and head of the department Professor Dr Saeed Shafqat, who moderated the session, said that political participation and provision of education to minorities were key to pluralism and promoting diversity in Pakistani society. He said that the CPPG would further work on the study and produce policy level recommendations.
FCCU Rector Dr James Tebbe, Bishop of Lahore Irfan Jameel, Professor Dr Farzand Masih, Professor Dr Christy Munir, Barrister Ambreen Qureshi, Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Vice-President Ravindar Singh, former Punjab Assembly Member Kanji Ram, Valmiki community representative Amarnath Randhawa, Punjab Assembly member Sadia Sohail, human rights lawyer Saiful Malook and several others participated in the event.