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Saturday, April 13, 2024

The truth about freedom of religion in Pakistan

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Pakistani constitution, which established a fundamental right of Pakistani citizens, irrespective of their religion, to equal rights.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Pakistani constitution, which established a fundamental right of Pakistani citizens, irrespective of their religion, to equal rights. The remaining 4% of the Pakistani population practice Hinduism, Christianity, Ahmadis, Sikhism, and other religions.

The growing pattern of religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is threatening the very fabric of Pakistani society and undermining democracy, in addition to putting the lives of religious minorities in danger. Whether this is in the form of physical persecution, or breaking down places of worship, Pakistan’s prima facie intolerance towards other religions seems apparent. Yet, to say that the country lacks religious tolerance is an overstatement in itself.

CII says no to construction of Islamabad’s first Hindu temple

The Council of Islamic Ideology has opposed the government providing funds for the construction of Islamabad’s only temple. It has instead suggested that the government reopen the temple and dharamshala in Saidpur.

At a press conference after a CII meeting on Wednesday, chairman Qibla Ayaz said Hindus also have permission to set up a cremation site where they can perform the last rites according to their religious teachings.

The construction of the Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad became a topic of controversy after the Capital Development Authority stopped construction of its boundary wall on July 5 and a teenager destroyed the wall. A plot had been allotted to the temple in Sector H/9 and it would have been the first place of worship for Hindus in the city.

The issue, the CDA said, was that a building plan had not been submitted to it. However, Islamabad’s Hindu Panchayat had said they had submitted the application but got no response from the authority.

PTI MNA Lal Chand Malhi, on the other hand, said the building plan for the temple had already been submitted to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which forwarded it to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Read More: Politics on Islamabad’s Hindu temple is regrettable

“The plan along with the request for a grant of Rs100 million has been sent to Prime Minister Imran Khan,” Malhi said, pointing out that the PM had initially approved the grant. After opposition from clerics, however, it was agreed that a decision would be taken after advice from the CII.

The religious affairs ministry said during a later press conference that it only “releases funds for the renovation and rehabilitation of minority’s worship places”, not for construction. The matter was taken to the Islamabad High Court, which disposed of the petitions saying that the CII would give its advice, after which the CDA would decide.

A celebration: The Shri Krishna temple

The ground-breaking ceremony of the Shri Krishna temple was performed on June 23. The temple spread over four kanals is meant to include a crematorium, visitor accommodation, a community hall and parking space. The plan was reportedly approved in 2017 by the PML-N government but construction kept being delayed.

As anticipated, the construction was challenged by many religious hardliners. Since the news of its construction was shared, the site has been attacked and vandalised four times.

Amnesty International calls on Pakistan to uphold the freedom of religion

This July, Amnesty International stated that Pakistan’s authorities must protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for the country’s beleaguered Hindu community, including the construction of temples to exercise that right.

The human rights organization’s call came as authorities in Islamabad capitulated to pressure from a discriminatory campaign mounted by politicians, media outlets and clerics to halt the construction of a rare temple in the Pakistani capital. The boundary wall of the site where the temple was supposed to be constructed had also been torn down by a mob.

“The respect for the right to freedom of religion was promised to Pakistan’s Hindus by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Those who deny a long-marginalized community the right to practise their faith freely not only betray his legacy, but also violate the human rights of religious minorities protected under Pakistan’s constitution and its international human rights obligations,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.

Discrimination against Hindu community in Pakistan

“Pakistan claimed positive global attention last year when it opened the Sikh temple at Kartarpur to pilgrims from India. By caving into hateful pressure, it now threatens to reverse that achievement and deepen the discrimination that Pakistan’s Hindu community faces.”

The destruction of the Hindu temple site is yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the Hindu community in Pakistan. In recent years, they have faced increasing marginalization, with individuals facing false accusations of “blasphemy” – a crime that carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan – attacks on temples and shops, and the horrific abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of hundreds of young Hindu women.

In 2019, in two separate incidents, mobs attacked Hindu properties and places of worship in the southern Sindh province after allegations of “blasphemy” were made against a Hindu school principal and a Hindu veterinarian.