Empower minorities, and push for peace

Empower minorities, and push for peace

Defending the rights of religious communities in the pursuit of social justice is one of the key pillars of strong bilateral ties and regional harmony. The achievement of supreme civil rights is imperative to break the hold of decade old medieval ideologies to reflect the ethos of an enlightened polity. Any milestone on that path is a major achievement, and in the context of India-Pakistan ties, another step towards the distant vision of peaceful co-existence; globally as well as within Pakistan.

Defending the rights of religious communities in the pursuit of social justice is one of the key pillars of strong bilateral ties and regional harmony.

After Sindh became the first province of Pakistan to give Hindus the right to register their marriage officially, the National Assembly is mulling a wider bill on recognizing Hindu marriage rights, including issues such as inheritance, divorce, and child maintenance. This is a major civil rights move in a country where the 2% Hindu community is not provided adequate legal cover. Hindu women are vulnerable and easy targets of regular abductions and forced religious conversions and Hindu couples face problems in acquiring basic services such as opening bank accounts, applying for visas, getting national identity cards and shares of property, just because they lack a proof of marriage.

The law in Sindh is not foolproof. While it can be applied retroactively to existing unions, marriages can be annulled if any spouse converts. Human rights activists hope a national law will take a broader view of social issues, address such controversial clauses and provide the same legal cover to all citizens.

The National Assembly’s initiative is particularly significant as Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif argues that he is committed to peace with India. It has long been a narrative of far right elements in India, many linked to the current Establishment, that the Hindu community is persecuted in Pakistan, pointing fingers at the regular influx of refugees, and highlighting the lack of basic civil rights as indicative of Pakistan’s ‘theocratic’ political system. Expanding legal cover and basic civil rights to all Hindus in Pakistan, not only sends a progressive message to the global community, but even the government in India ruled by the BJP. Although it is not wise to equate communal rights with indo-Pak ties but this argument has been used to promulgate hate on both sides by the fanatics. To provide legal cover to religious minorities on both sides will at least become another reason to co-exist.

This move will also help to weaken the narrative of the far right on both sides of the border who not only seek to derail the peace process, but the social progress of both young democracies.

In the past few years, civil rights struggles have achieved multiple victories around the world, with human rights trumping tradition and dogma. Ireland, Britain and the United States have empowered the LGBT community, a case that deeply divided all these nations along religious lines. As India and Pakistan both seek to secure their place in the comity of secular democracies, civil rights should no longer be a divisive issue. Border disputes persist and both sides refuse to see eye to eye on terrorism and security issues. However, the rights of religious minorities are low-hanging fruit, and Pakistan can deliver not only as a service to its citizens, but also as a goodwill gesture to showcase its commitment towards a peaceful world for all communities. This move will also help to weaken the narrative of the far right on both sides of the border who not only seek to derail the peace process, but the social progress of both young democracies.

Ayushman Jamwal

Ayushman Jamwal

Ayushman Jamwal is a MA Political Communication graduate from Cardiff University, currently working as Senior news editor at CNN-News18.


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