KARACHI: President Asif Ali Zardari has desired that the blasphemy law be reviewed and necessary action taken, said a minority member of the Sindh Assembly at a meeting on Saturday.
MPA Pitanbar Sewani, speaking at the meeting on ‘Communities vulnerable because of their beliefs’, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the president had responded to a point raised by him during a meeting held at the Sindh Chief Minister’s House.
He said he had raised the issue with the president that the blasphemy law was being misused and was a cause of harassment to the minorities and that it might be amended.
He said the president said: “The federal government may examine it and take necessary action.” And that action on this was to be taken by the federal law minister.
Mr Sewani also circulated a copy of the minutes of the meeting issued by Mohammad Ishaque Lashari of the President’s Secretariat (Public) at Aiwan-i-Sadar, Islamabad.
Earlier, I. A. Rehman of the HRCP said that though the HRCP issued a report regarding the status of human rights – which also covered the issues related to the minorities — in the country every year, it was being felt that the issues were of grave nature and could not be fully covered in just a portion of a report, so it was decided that a separate report regarding the status of the minorities in the country would also be published.
He said a series of meetings were being organised where minority communities were invited to discuss their issues and after this process was completed, a report would be prepared that would depict the picture of the minorities in the country.
Minority MPA Saleem Khokhar said at the meeting that under the separate electorates the minority representatives had to contest elections so they took care of their electorate, knowing that he would have to go to them again in next polls. But now under the joint electorate system, the political party chief had the power to nominate anybody he liked.
So if he selected his peon and nominated him for the seat, he would become a parliamentarian.
He said a major drawback of this system was that in many cases the voters did not know their representative and the parliamentarian might also not be paying due attention to the electorate, knowing that he had become a parliamentarian because of his party chief’s blessing and not because of his voters’ wishes.
Other speakers raised the issue of forced conversion of minor girls and their marriage with Muslim boys. They demanded that in case of minors, they be reunited with the families till their adulthood and if they still wanted to convert, they be allowed to do so. They said more than 45 Hindu girls had been forcibly converted in Sindh in the past couple of years.
They demanded that the Minorities Commission, working under the federal Social Welfare Ministry, be abolished and an autonomous and financially independent commission, which should be a statutory body, be constituted. And it should have the powers to receive complaints, investigate them, give recommendations on laws, and should present its report to parliament annually.
Stressing curriculum reforms, they demanded that textbooks be free from portraying the superiority of one community to another, and if the injecting of religious teachings was necessary, it should comprise tolerant sections from each religion preaching peaceful coexistence of all people in society.
They alleged that the ruling party in Punjab was showing sympathy to and alliance with a hate campaign launched by some religious groups against the Ahmadis, and attacks against that community were on the rise. They said till the time laws were reviewed/ changed, the situation could be improved through administrative orders.
They also expressed concern over a stay granted by a Lahore court as the petitioner feared that the president might grant pardon to a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. They said the government and the judiciary should not succumb to the wishes of extremist views held by a small number of people.
A speaker alleged that when he had applied for a job in an Atomic Energy Commission institute at Tando Jam, he was told that non-Muslims were not recruited in the institute.
A speaker said that though a five per cent employment quota was allocated for the minorities, it was not being implemented judiciously. Most minority members were recruited for low-level jobs such as sanitary workers, peons, etc. They demanded that the implementation of the quota be made compulsory in every grade.
They also urged the media to accommodate liberal religious scholars in their talk shows.
Ghazi Salahuddin, Roland deSouza, Asad Iqbal, Dr Sabir Michael, Shamsher Ali, Kalpana Devi, Munawwar Shahid, Kersasp Shekhdar, Rochiram, Badar Soomro, and others also spoke.