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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Dec 27, 2016

Sindh’s retreat from forced conversion bill was damaging

The recent hints of retreat by the Sindh government on forced conversion legislation suggest its readiness to surrender to non-state elements.
This was expressed by speakers at a seminar on “Progressive Legislation: prospects and challenges” at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Monday.
Last month, the Sindh government had passed the Protection of Minorities Act, 2015. However, after criticism and mounting pressure from religious groups, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had hinted that it may revisit the law. On Monday, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said that legislation was the sole prerogative of the parliament, while adding that he had also heard from sources in the Sindh government that the provincial government may amend the Protection of Minorities Act, 2015.
“Obviously, the political leadership would be facing tremendous pressure from certain quarters,” he said, adding that such pressures were the result of a mindset which the state had been cultivating for decades.
He noted that the ‘national security brigade’ and ‘national ideology brigade’ had always created impediments for progressive legislation in the country.
“Progressive laws and supremacy of parliament don’t suit these two brigades. They are the reason that the Right to Information Bill was left in the doldrums,” Babar said. He urged civil society to raise its voice strongly against these pressures and remind the government and parliamentarians that Pakistan is a signatory of several international conventions with clear commitments to protect human rights, especially those of marginalised sections of society.
He suggested that civil society should also remain vigilant on the responses the government gave to the 17 questions posed by the UN Information Committee about the measures taken on ensuring human rights, adding at the civil society should not allow the government to file responses based on lies and deceit.
Romana Bashir, a rights activist and head of Peace and Development Foundation (PDF) said that reversal of the legislation of forced conversions by Sindh Assembly would show the weakness of the state and would expose religious minorities.
She recalled how the Punjab government faced similar pressures from certain quarters on the Women Protection Bill but the government remained firm on it. The Sindh government, she said, was showing signs of weakness which could have dangerous consequences. Jagmohan Kumar Arora, a rights activist and Hindu community leader, said that the Protection of Minorities Act had revived hopes among the religious minorities of a better future. However, with the government seemingly giving into pressures, they were losing all hope a sign which does not augur well for a progressive Pakistan.
Political analyst Zahid Hussain said that such progressive legislation was the need of the hour keeping in view the growing incidents of kidnapping and forced marriages and conversions of Hindu women and girls in Sindh. He added that in the past, the political leadership had exhibited a tendency towards political expediency with very negative consequences for society, and it seemed to be treading on the same path again.
He warned that if this progressive legislation is reversed, society would see that parliamentarians have no independence for legislation and that unelected pressure groups could dictate their terms.