Human rights violations of minorities in Pakistan continue unabated even as they are persecuted under the controversial blasphemy law, frequently attacked while their places of worships are targeted and teenage girls belonging to Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities are kidnapped and forced into marriage with older Muslim men—making the country a dangerous place for minorities
The deplorable situation of minorities in Pakistan has been a matter of great concern not only for well-intentioned domestic civil society but also for international human rights groups and advocates.

The Pakistani government has vehemently denied these allegations of minority rights violations, despite evidence of such acts being committed under the watchful eyes of law enforcement agencies and legislators.

Unfortunately, even the judiciary has failed to deliver justice, as they fear retaliation from extremist elements who enjoy government protection.

The recent withdrawal of funds for minority welfare in Pakistan's 24-25 budget reflects the mindset of the country's top leadership towards minorities.

Although the meagre sum of Rs 100 million allocated in the previous year's budget was insignificant in addressing the needs of the minorities, it held symbolic value for a community that constitutes less than 5 percent of Pakistan's total population of 244 million.

Surprisingly, Pakistan's federal budget, which was presented on June 12, allocated a separate amount of Rs 1861 million for religious affairs and interfaith harmony, specifically covering funding for Haj pilgrims in Mecca.

This decision has shocked and drawn criticism from minority leaders, as it means the withdrawal of funds that were previously used to provide scholarships and support to minority students.

The plight of minorities in Pakistan is deeply concerning, as their population has significantly dwindled over the years.

Persecution of minorities

Once constituting 23 percent of the total population of undivided Pakistan after independence, minorities now make up less than 5 percent. 

Human rights activists and other observers attribute this decline to the constant persecution faced by minorities, which forces them to live in poverty and fear.

Tragically, incidents of mob lynching targeting minorities in the name of blasphemy law violations are all too common.

It is crucial for the Pakistani government to acknowledge and address the challenges faced by minorities in the country.

Upholding the rights and welfare of all citizens, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, is essential for fostering a just and inclusive society.

Efforts should be made to ensure that minority communities are protected, their grievances are heard, and they are provided with equal opportunities to thrive and contribute to the nation's progress.

Pakistan has consistently countered the accusations of religious persecution against minorities, yet the international community remains vigilant due to the harsh treatment they face.

Not only do minorities experience discrimination at a social level, but the official and political classes also engage in oppressive behaviour towards them.

The Pakistani political elite often shift blame onto hardline elements within society for acts of discrimination and persecution, but the absence of provisions in the latest budget reveals their indifferent attitude towards minorities.

This budget previously supported social and religious events for minority groups such as Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Ahmadiyya, who each make up less than 1.6 percent of the population in Pakistan.

Deliberate overlooking of minorities’ mistreatment

Despite the Pakistani constitution mandating equal treatment for all minorities, the political class continues to overlook the mistreatment faced by minority communities in various aspects of life.

From forced religious conversions and marriages of teenage girls to limited opportunities for education and employment, minorities in Pakistan endure significant hardships.

The international community and Pakistani civil society have raised concerns about the deteriorating human rights conditions for minorities, yet the government and law enforcement agencies consistently ignore complaints of inhumane treatment towards them.

This disregard for the well-being of minorities has drawn widespread criticism both domestically and internationally.

In an attempt to deflect international scrutiny, the Pakistani government established a Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2008, only to disband it later under pressure from extremist groups.

Subsequently, the ministry was restructured as the Ministry of National Harmony and Minority Affairs before being merged into the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony in 2013.

Despite Ahmadiyya being a Muslim sect, they were controversially declared as non-Muslims in the country, further exacerbating the challenges faced by minority communities in Pakistan.

The government's inconsistent approach towards addressing the concerns of minorities has perpetuated a cycle of discrimination and marginalization, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to protect the rights and well-being of all minority groups in the country.

Incidents of mistreatment towards poor Hindus who attempt to fetch drinking water from mosques, thereby violating the sanctity of the mosque, are unfortunately not uncommon. Similarly, Hindu temples are often targeted and vandalized under various pretexts.

Acts of lynching in response to alleged blasphemy violations are also prevalent. The Pakistani daily, The News, has reported a consistent history of attacks against non-Muslim places of worship in Pakistan.

The newspaper further comments that these increasing attacks can be attributed to a sustained policy of disregarding and even encouraging extremist tendencies within society.

The discriminatory laws and content found in Pakistani school textbooks are also held responsible for fuelling such violence.

Pakistani newspapers have also highlighted that the attacks on Hindu temples reflect a dangerous trend of radicalization.

Worsening situation of minorities

Young Hindu girls are frequently kidnapped and forced into marriage with older Muslim men.

The situation for Pakistan's minority communities continues to deteriorate amidst political disarray and escalating sectarian tensions. 

Both the government and judiciary have failed to take effective measures to address these issues, primarily due to the fear of widespread violent reactions.

Consequently, the United States Department of State has consistently designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for several years now.

One specific community, Ahmadiyya, has faced significant discrimination since 1974, as it has been denied recognition as Muslims. 

Fearing further repression, many Ahmadiyyas conceal their true identity to protect themselves from persecution.

The Pakistani government failed to repeal or modify blasphemy laws in the country to appease extremist groups. 

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and as of late 2023, there were numerous individuals on death row for this offense.

Shockingly, since 1990, at least 65 people have lost their lives in Pakistan due to accusations of blasphemy.

The situation is particularly alarming in Punjab province, where the police registered a staggering 585 cases of blasphemy in 2021 alone, as reported by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The 2024 report by the Pakistan Human Rights Commission highlights the distressing reality that religiously motivated violence has become the norm in the country.

This report emphasizes that the sentiments of the majority Muslim population often receive preferential treatment, leading to discrimination against religious minorities and sects.

Patricia Grossman, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, has called for urgent action to end legal discrimination against religious minorities and to hold perpetrators of violence and discrimination accountable.

The HRCP has also demanded a revision of the national curriculum to ensure that secular subjects do not contain any content that discriminates against religious minorities or their faiths.

Failure to combat faith-based discrimination

It is crucial for the Pakistani government to acknowledge the need for change and not remain in denial.

They can learn valuable lessons from other Muslim-majority nations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and various Arab countries, where religious minorities are respected and granted full freedom to practice their faith.

Urgent implementation of measures to combat faith-based discrimination and violence is necessary to prevent further shrinking of the already limited space for religious freedom in Pakistan.

Failure to take action will only perpetuate a climate of impunity for those who engage in religious persecution, hindering progress towards a more inclusive and tolerant society.

***The writer is a senior journalist and strategic affairs analyst; views expressed here are his own