Searching for Security: The Rising Marginalization of Religious Communities in Pakistan

Searching for Security: The Rising Marginalization of Religious Communities in Pakistan

Publication details

  • Monday | 15 Dec, 2014
  • Muhammad Salim Khawaja, Mome Saleem, Humaira Ishfaq
  • Research Reports,Project Publications
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Executive  Summary
Though religious communities such as Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have suffered discrimination in Pakistan for decades, their persecution has intensified in recent years and has now reached critical  levels. Despite some signs of progress, their situation continues to be characterized by denigration,  the frequent use of blasphemy laws and increasingly deadly attacks on places of worship. This insecurity  not only exposes them to the threat of death and injury, but also reinforces their exclusion from political participation, basic services, education and employment. As a result, large numbers have been forced to emigrate from the country. There has also been an upsurge of sectarian violence against the Shi'a Muslim  community, particularly Hazara Shi’a.Drawing  on an extensive review of published research and interviews with a range of activists and representatives, this report explores the key drivers of Pakistan’s continued religious discrimination.  Among other factors, the report highlights the persistence of deeply entrenched rights gaps in the country’s constitution  and legal framework. This includes significant barriers to political participation, underdeveloped or non-existent recognition of non-Muslim marriages, unequal judicial  procedures and a frequent unwillingness  among law enforcement agencies to enforce legal protections against discrimination. In particular, the country’s blasphemy laws continue to be applied against
many Pakistanis, including disproportionate numbers of religious minority  members, with little respect for the rights of those accused and in violation  of Pakistan’s international legal commitments.
 
Furthermore, this discrimination translates at a societal level to widespread prejudice against minorities, perpetuated in workplaces, schools, media and even communal  burial sites, where, in a number of recent incidents,  deceased minority  members have been barred or disinterred by local extremists. Hate speech and negative representations of religious minorities remain commonplace in certain media and are still perpetuated in some educational materials. Similarly, religious minorities continue  to face barriers in accessing employment opportunities in many sectors, including public organizations, despite the existence of quotas within federal government agencies. They are in fact disproportionately concentrated in poorly paid, stigmatized or exploitative working conditions, including bonded labour.
This backdrop of discrimination  enables and facilitates continued violence against religious minorities. Addressing these institutional  and social inequalities is essential if security for members of Pakistan’s religious minorities is to be restored. Their persecution in Pakistan is both a cause and a symptom of the broader deterioration in human rights and governance. The protection  of these groups, in collaboration with civil society groups, religious leaders, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders, is therefore an urgent priority for the government in its campaign to restore effective governance in the country. Failure to do so will not only continue to threaten the country’s diversity, but also the future stability of the country  as a whole.