Lahore: The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) held its 7th annual convention in observance of National Minorities’ Day, calling upon political parties to fulfil their promises regarding minority rights as outlined in their manifestos. The convention saw a diverse group of speakers, including Hina Jillani, Peter Jacob, Wajahat Masood, Benazir Shah, and others. Representatives from various political parties, including Barrister Aamir Hassan (PPP), Ishtiaq Gohar (PML-Q), and Azhar Iqbal (JI), also presented their parties' stances on minority rights.
Peter Jacob, CSJ's executive director, highlighted the significance of foundational documents like Quaid-e-Azam’s speech of 11 August 1947, the fourteen Points of Jinnah (1929), the Lahore Resolution (1940), and the Liaquat Nehru Pact (1950) in ensuring equal rights and establishing a just system. He expressed concerns over the recently passed National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023, urging the Senate to introduce necessary amendments to make the commission truly effective and autonomous.
Hina Jillani emphasized the need for the state and government to address issues faced by minorities. She criticized policies that appease extremist forces and promote division based on identity. The religious content in compulsory subjects, she argued, can be hurtful to non-Muslim children and needs revision.
Wajahat Masood, Chairperson of CSJ, urged political parties to reflect on their actions, especially when introducing laws under the influence of fundamentalist groups. He emphasized the importance of Jinnah's vision of tolerance and equality.
Barrister Aamir Hassan of the Pakistan Peoples Party highlighted the need to separate state affairs from religious influence. He expressed concerns over the amendment to section 298-A, fearing its misuse in blasphemy accusations.
Benazir Shah pointed out the lack of understanding among political parties regarding human rights issues. She criticized the inclusion of Islamic content in the single national curriculum for subjects like English, Urdu, and Social Science, which should not be taught to religious minorities.
Journalist and activist Veengas shed light on the grim reality of forced conversions and child marriages of minority girls. She emphasized the state's responsibility to introduce preventive legislation against forced conversions.
Saqib Jillani urged both federal and provincial governments to address challenges faced by minority communities, such as forced conversion and freedom of belief. He also emphasized the implementation of the Jilani judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2014.
Dr. Yaqoob Khan Bangash called for the introduction of laws and policies that promote positive change in societal mindsets. Professor Sardar Kalyan Singh Kalyan stressed the importance of an inclusive curriculum that promotes diversity and interaction among students.
Suneel Malik presented the findings of the "Promises to Keep & Miles to Go" report, urging political parties to uphold their election manifesto commitments to improve human rights and minority rights.
Azhar Iqbal of Jamaat-e-Islami and Ishtiaq Gohar of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) both emphasized the importance of protecting minority rights and fostering social cohesion.
The convention concluded with the screening of two documentary films: one highlighting the significance of National Minorities Day and the other, "Humsaya" (Neighbour)", a CSJ production that won the Best Short Documentary on Human Rights award at the Venice Intercultural Film Festival in June 2023.
Resolution: The convention participants unanimously called for the promotion of religious freedom, tolerance, and equality of rights for all citizens. They urged the government to take concrete steps to ensure the protection of minority rights, including amending discriminatory provisions in the constitution, delivering on electoral pledges, setting up empowered committees to oversee progress, introducing educational reforms, and criminalizing forced faith conversions. The convention was organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and attended by representatives from civil society organizations and political parties.