By: Barrister Pirzada Aurang Zaib 27 May 2020
‘You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of State – We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens, of one state’ – Jinnah’s address at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August, 1947.
It is on these parameters were we obliged to formulate the fundamentals of our socio-politico and religious dimensions of our society. Although Pakistan is constitutionally an Islamic Republic, with Article 2 of the Constitution declaring Islam as the state Religion; these values were given due significance, at-least on paper, and guarantees of religious freedom were duly incorporated in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973; as Article 20 of the Constitution duly protects and promotes the right to profess, practice and propagate religion, and similarly, Article 36 of the Constitution assures that the state shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interest of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services. It goes without fear of rebuttal that in many instances the laws, assures more rights and representation to minorities as compared to the majority. However, the bitter reality remains that state has failed to the ensure the rights guaranteed to religious minorities and effectuation of favorable environment as promised by the founding-fathers of our Constitution; and on account of which situation regarding religious freedom in Pakistan often comes under strict scrutiny at the international forums. The evolution from Quaid’s vision of a religiously tolerant society to one in which religious minorities are precarious is truly unfortunate, but the recent times have come as a breath of fresh air.
In comparison, our next door neighbor India, historically prides itself in religious freedom and secular nature of state; and through forty second amendment in its constitution, formally declared itself a secular state. Till recent times, India has been commended for its pluralism; however, with the rise of fascist hindutva majoritarian ideology, the ideals of secular state are at the brink of collapse.
There have been ever apparent pattern of religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities; continuously desecrating the ‘so called’ secular face of India. The ruling party has championed a radical brand of Hindu nationalism, termed Hindutva, and has overseen and encouraged a dramatic escalation in religiously-motivated violence across India. The proliferation of hard line Hindu extremist ideology is bent upon suppressing and persecuting all those who differ on religious ground. The earliest indication of evident religious intolerance surfaced with the propagation of farcical idea of ‘love jihad’, forced conversions and patronized lynching by cow vigilantes who exclusively targeted Muslim minority. The revocation of Article 370 of Indian Constitution, brings to spot light, even more, the acts of barbarism and atrocities committed by the Occupied Indian Forces in the Muslim majority areas of J&K and the total negation of religious and human rights for the oppressed Muslims of the valley. Similarly, the Citizen [Amendment] Act, 2019 also discriminates against the Muslims community based solely on the religion.
In the 2020 edition of its annual report on International Religious Freedom, the US Commission of International Religious Freedom [USCIRF] observed that India took a sharp downward turn on religious freedoms in 2019; and recommended for the inclusion of India in the list of Countries of Particular Concern ’CPC’, due to ever increasing organized and even state patronage violence against Indian minorities, specially Muslims. It its report on India, USCIRF observed that;
‘The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims. Most notably, it enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act…”
The concerns raised in USCIRF report indicates that India engages in or tolerates systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. In February 2020, the eruption of communal violence in Northern Delhi, wherein for the three days extremist Hindutva mobs attacked and burnt down Muslims neighborhoods, right when the US President was visiting the country, speaks volumes about the deteriorating religious freedom in India. The USCIRF in its recent statement has also shown grave concern on reports of mass arrest of Muslim activist during COVID -19 who protested against the contentious Citizen Amendment Act, 2019. In propter, it is only fair to conclude that the fascist Hindutva singular mindset has taken India to the brink of being listed as a religiously partisan and intolerant; and rolling back the tide of extremist mindset in India will be an enormous task and could take generations.
In comparison to India, Pakistan has been experiencing glimmers of light in shape of slow yet steady improvement in religious freedom, thanks to the seriousness and priority shown by the Governments over the years and realization of the importance of doing the same. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom [USCIRF] in its annual report for the year 2020, has listed the opening of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor as a positive development; and further the renovation and reopening of the Hindu temple of Shawala Teeja Singh in Sialkot after 72 years and initiatives for promotion of religious tourism have been taken as a positive trend in improving the religious freedoms in Pakistan. Giving credit where it’s due, the role ETPB and its parent ministry has been commendable in this regard.
Prioritizing protection of religious freedom is not only important as a human rights issue, but also as a strategic and security issue, since its a part of a broader narrative that aids in countering any propaganda to exploit our religious fault lines but also to assist in propagating a positive image of Pakistan. Although the Govt. has prioritize the cause yet much more needs to be done to ensure the implementation of constitutionality guaranteed religious freedoms and to set an example for our neighboring country by establishing a State which is pluralistic, tolerant and all encompassing.
Writer is a Barrister-at-Law from the Hon’ble Society of Lincoln’s Inn. He is based in Lahore and is a partner at Ibrahim & Ibrahim-Barristers and Legal Consultants. He tweets @pirzada_