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‘Stereotypes towards marginalized groups a widespread phenomenon’: PIPS’s dialogue forum

Provincial Dialogue Forum – 2

It is to the absence of social harmony that non-Muslims in Pakistan are being treated as outsiders not only by radicals but also apparently-moderate individuals. Even in elite institutions, there are numerous instances of students or teachers passing comments that reek of bias and stereotypes against non-Muslims.

These thoughts came in the second provincial dialogue forum on Punjab, held in Lahore, on 5 July 2017. Noted scholars, academics, lawyers, civil society members attended the forum, deliberating on achieving social harmony and equality in Punjab.

Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, in his keynote speech, called for appreciating diversity in the country, which will then produce harmony. Today’s world necessitates embracing diversity, he underscored.

Yet, he lamented, our understanding of what religion ordains us doesn’t resonate with political realities of the current times, he observed. At the same time, the tendency of sensationalizing issues, or dormant differences, further opened spaces for conflict. This is despite the fact that we have entered what is called a “post-truth” world. Resultantly, he observed, our society is unable to come to grip with diversity around, evident through disharmony around, including in the largest province, Punjab.

He called for participatory approach of governance, something that can rub differences. In today’s world, “neither is society subordinate, nor, state superior.” Even words like “minority”, a numerical equation, have no acceptance.

Executive Director, Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, Zafarullah Khan agreed, stressing upon the need for debates. When the present constitution was originally being drafted in 1973, extensive debates took place in the then constituent assembly; those debates, available, should be consulted.

At one point, Khan implied that the constitution’s embrace of state religion may not necessarily be the sole source of the unequal status meted to non-Muslims. There are around 54 countries having state religion; these include the United Sates too. The difference is they all bestow equal rights upon all.

Zafarullah also referred to invoking constitutional parameters in the argument. When it comes to banned outfits, several of which are found in Punjab, it merits mentioning that Article 246 of the constitution already warns against establishing private militias. No one talks about that article, he said.

When it comes to what doesn’t work in bringing harmony, Pakistan’s renowned art educator Salima Hashmi pointed to curriculum. Non-Muslim participants agreed, one of them recalling that the curriculum of Punjab in some instances was the one written by a religious political party. That, it was said, should be reverted.

It was said that while several commissions have been constituted to look after minority affairs, these commissions themselves failed to include minorities.

Some participants touched upon economic interests under the garb of religion. The proliferation of worship places owes to economic interests, one said. Religion is invoked to pursue political goals, another said. Economic considerations overwhelm the worldview of ordinary people in Punjab: while we grovel in front of white Christians, we are dismissive towards the fair-skinned ones in our country, one said.

Participants called for acknowledging in the curriculum the role of non-Muslims in Pakistan, including Hindus.

Members who attended the forum included Dr. Khalid Masood, former chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology; Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services; lawyer Saroop Ejaz; Saleem Hashmi, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; I.A. Rehman, human rights activists and columnist; Najamuddin, HRCP; James Paul, Pakistan Minorities Teacher Alliance; Baghat Lal; Dr. Gul Abbas, principal; Dr. M. Rafiqul Islam, lecturer; Zahid Islam; Peter Jacob, Muhammad Amir Rana, director, PIPS; besides several other members of civil society organizations.

Earlier, starting off the discussion, PIPS’s project manager Ismail Khan argued that, according to an extensive national-level dialogue conducted by PIPS, it was concluded that tapping diversity is must to secure the country. The national strategy, it was shared, called for inculcating a citizenship framework that incorporates all, irrespective of their backgrounds.