Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - "Let's start with the question of forced conversions, a scourge in the life of Pakistan's religious minorities. This painful mentality goes hand in hand with extremely worrying factors such as violations of fundamental human rights, discrimination, poverty and the absence of the rule of law. The government's inaction on this issue encourages perpetrators to use their faith to cover up crimes against minority women. The vulnerable and poor members of religious minorities are unable to defend themselves in order to obtain justice", said Catholic and Pakistani human rights activist, Peter Jacob, interviewed by Fides on the occasion of Pakistan's Minority Day, celebrated every year on August 11th.
Jacob, who was executive secretary of the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP) in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan for some 30 years and now directs the "Center for Social Justice" (CSJ), states:
"The problem of abuse of minority rights must be recognized and addressed through adequate legislation in order to take specific measures to protect women from religious minorities. Awareness and education programs are therefore urgently needed to increase protection and awareness in the Pakistani society for the vulnerable and marginalized status of minorities in the country. We will continue to speak out until the state ensures justice and the Pakistani people become aware of it".
According to data collected by the CSJ, a total of 78 adolescent women from religious minority communities (39 Hindu and 38 Christian and one Sikh woman) were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in 2021, representing an 80 percent increase in cases compared to the year 2020. However, these cases are only those officially registered, while many others go unreported. On the occasion of Minority Day, human rights activists express their concern about the lack of legal safeguards to protect minorities in Pakistan. Crimes such as kidnapping, forgery and sexual violence are committed in connection with forced conversions and go unpunished.
On the occasion of August 11, the president of the NGO "Voice for Justice", Joseph Jansen speaking to Fides, cites the message of the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his historic speech of August 11, 1947, which inspired the choice of the date "Minority Day". Jinnah said, "We are all citizens and equal citizens of a state." "I think we should keep that in mind as an ideal," Jansen insists, "and understand that over time, Hindus should stop being Hindus and Muslims being Muslims. Not in a religious sense, because it is about the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state". He added: "You are free. You are free to go to your temple, mosque or other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may be of any religion, caste or creed: it has nothing to do with the affairs of the state".
Joseph Jansen reports: "On the occasion of the National Day of Minorities, Voice for Justice will hold minutes of silence and commemorations together with other organizations and call on the Pakistani government to introduce concrete guarantees for the protection of religious minorities and to implement the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah". It is necessary "to recognize and sanction all acts of discrimination, especially on the basis of religion and belief, so that equality and freedom of religion are guaranteed, as stated in the Pakistani constitution", concluded Jansen.
Pakistani civil society remembers in particular the Catholic minister Shahbaz Bhatti (1968-2011), who was killed in a terrorist attack in Islamabad and was a martyr for justice. Bhatti left a valuable spiritual legacy, as well as civil and political achievements such as the establishment of Minority Day on 11 August. The minister wanted to commemorate the anniversary of Ali Jinnah's historic address to the nation of Pakistan, in which he proclaimed equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.
Today's Minority Day, introduced in 2009 at Bhatti's initiative, is a legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti's Christian and human commitment, making it a tangible sign of recognition to the role of minorities in Pakistan and honor their contribution to nation building since independence. The themes that have marked the day since then are: justice, work, education, respect for rights, ending forced conversions and all social and religious discrimination. (AG/PA) (Agenzia Fides, 10/8/2022)