Pakistan must end majority Vs minority wordage, safeguard its non-Muslims

Karachi: A Pakistan-based lawyer and freelance journalist has said that the successful tabling of two landmark private member bills — the Sindh Minority Rights Commission Bill and the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill — in the Sindh Assembly, may not necessarily guarantee the safety and protection of the country’s minority Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities.

In article published in the Express Tribune, Maria Kari has described both of these proposed Bills to be promising and progressive, but improbable in terms of eventual implementation because of a lack of political will, weak administration and corruption that defines Pakistan.

Praising Nand Kumar Goklani, a Hindu member of the Sindh Assembly, for tabling the two bills, Kari, however, said, “In its current form, the proposed law is promising and progressive. It comes with several built-in special measures that would heighten protection of a victim of a marriage based on forced conversion. It grants the alleged convert an option to study comparative religions. It places a ban on reporting names or the locations of the alleged convert to increase protection of her and her family. It promises heightened security for the prosecution, its witnesses, and investigating officers.

“Most importantly, it promises a punishment to fit the crime: if a marriage is deemed to have been performed on the basis of a forced conversion, the court can fast-track divorce proceedings. Individuals found guilty of forceful conversion face a minimum five-year sentence that can extend to a life sentence. And those, such as the police or religious clerics, who are found guilty of making the marriage happen, face a minimum three-year sentence.”

But she reminds one and all that every year in Pakistan over a thousand non-Muslim women are forced to convert to Islam, and these girls once abducted from the safety of their homes and communities, are raped and then, usually, married off to their assailants who sneakily shield their non-consensual sexual assault behind the veil of a nikkah-nama. Sometimes they are sold into the sex trade.

These girls or women, she further states, live in fear, rarely ever return to their families, and can almost never hope to receive any help from the police, the local clerics and the government often turns a blind eye to their plight. So, the question that arises is – who does one turn to?

The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, Kari says tackles forced conversions directly.

“By making it illegal for a person under the age of 18 to change their religion, and by providing adults 21 days to make an independent decision on whether they do, in fact, wish to adopt a new faith. The proposed bill hopes to counter the current practice whereby a victim shows up in front of a court, with little to no security, and testifies she converted independently and/or because she was in love with her perpetrator,” she adds.

Pakistan, Kari reminds, has a track record of introducing promising, progressive laws that then go on to collect dust on the shelves of law libraries, and she is convinced that these two private member bills will also face a similar fate.

“Poor implementation or, in many cases, a complete failure to implement, has rendered even the best of Pakistan’s policies worthless. Implementing legislation sounds like a no-brainer. A law is proposed, the law is approved, and the law is implemented. Simple right? Not in Pakistan”.

Why, because the agencies concerned with implementation remain so weak and overrun by corruption that it is well nigh impossible to achieve.

She concludes by saying that she is simply not convinced that the Sindh Assembly’s (admittedly progressive) proposed legislations will accomplish much once they are passed and reach the implementation phase.

She suggests five steps to restore Pakistan’s credibility as a democratic state as envisioned by its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1947 and the promise of Article 25(1) of the Pakistani constitution.

Do away with the majority/minority wordage and in future legislation simply refer to your protected class of persons as non-Muslim or Muslim.

Turn up the heat on holding accountable our voted-in politicians and policymakers.

Ramp up the quality and availability of pro-bono services across Pakistan. Make pro bono services attractive to young lawyers. Make current lawyers more competent by updating them on changes to the law and legal recourses available to victims of forced conversion.

New laws should not be confined or deliberated upon in the air conditioned halls of the Sindh Assembly, but need to be adopted by the streets i.e. masses, where they have been broken in the first place.

The rampant abuse against non-Muslims must stop in Pakistan, and these ground-breaking legislations in the Sindh Assembly are the way forward. (ANI)