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Violence against minorities: ‘Religious harmony must be taught in schools’

LAHORE: Pakistanis need to stop targeting their countrymen belonging to religious minorities whenever there is a perceived crime against Islam or Muslims elsewhere in the world, said speakers at a seminar at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday.

Members of minority faiths feel increasingly insecure in Pakistan, particularly when someone makes blasphemous caricatures or movies in the West, said the speakers. Reacting to insults to Islam by resorting to lawlessness and destroying the properties of Pakistanis, both Muslim and non-Muslim, made no sense, they said.
The seminar, titled Interfaith and Intra-faith Harmony, was organised by the Working Women’s Development Foundation (WWDF) with the support of the Christian Study Centre.
“We need to … stop making the lives of minorities miserable. The basic agent of change in this regard could be schools, where the curriculum should stop teaching hate against different religions,” said human rights activist Tariq Awan.
He suggested that the school curriculum include more about non-Muslims who had played a positive role in the creation of Pakistan, such as SP Singha, the speaker of the Punjab Assembly in 1947. Singha supported the Quaid-i-Azam and cast the deciding vote in the assembly on the question of whether Punjab should become part of Pakistan, he said.
“Punjab was given to Pakistan … and this couldn’t have happed without Mr Singha’s support,” said Tanveer Haider, another human rights activist speaking at the seminar.
Bishop Samuel Lal said religious leaders of all faiths had a duty to promote interfaith harmony. He said all religions preached love for humanity and this common ground should be highlighted by religious scholars.
WWDF President Shumaila Firdous spoke about her organisation’s work for women domestic workers. She said such workers weren’t even considered as working women in Pakistan, but they made up a large chunk of the informal economy.
She said that these women could play a vita role in promoting interfaith harmony. “Quite often, domestic women workers working at one place together develop differences of opinion on religion. Often Christian women don’t like to eat with Muslims and vice-versa. If they are told that all religions preach love for humanity, they can take the message home and spread it broadly. That’s what we are trying to do by the platform of our organisation,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, the Mumkin Alliance, a grouping of civil society organisations, organised a panel discussion and theatre performance at the Forman Christian College as part of an international campaign to highlight violence against women. The participants included 230 students.
Speaking on the occasion, Neelam Hussain from Simorgh said that the women’s rights movement in Pakistan began during the dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq from the platform of the Women’s Action Forum. She said violence in the name of religion still affected a lot of women.
Suneha Theater presented a play to highlight various types of discrimination and violence against women in Pakistani society and the importance of resistance against violence at all levels.
16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence is an international campaign starting on November 25, the International Day Against Violence against Women, and ending on December 10, International Human Rights Day.
(Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2012.)


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