Minority Communities


Defining Minorities

The subcontinent has been host to a rich amalgamation of ethnicities and religions for much of modern history. Our political atmosphere today can perhaps be traced back to the infamous British divide-and-rule policy that was first introduced following the events of the Great Indian Revolt of 1857-8. The categorisation of the subcontinent’s cross-cutting, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural population into divided communities by the British Raj is said to have given birth to the two-nation theory which ultimately resulted in the Pakistan Movement.

The timeline below traces the plight of the minority groups since 1857 in an effort to understand the events that have led up to the present treatment of religious minorities* in Pakistan. Major events** involving minorities and the history of Pakistan are included below.

*While the Shia sect of Islam is part of the Muslim majority, they are often subject to persecution and violence that other minorites face ** ’major events’ are defined by violence reported to injure over a dozen, significant media coverage, or large scale involvement from a community



While the Shia sect of Islam is part of the Muslim majority, they are often subject to persecution that other minorites face by orthodox Sunni sects. There are no official population figures, estimates claim they make up as much as 15-25% of the total population of Pakistan.

Anti-Shia sentiments started ripening in the fifties with several efforts by the Tanzeem-e-Ahle-Sunnat (TAS) to ban azadari, the tradition of mourning the events leading upto the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The sixties saw Shias starting to face state persecutions as Muharram processions were banned and forced to change routes in several districts over the country. This culminated in the Thehri Massacre of 6th June 1963 where 118 Shia Muslims were killed by a mob in Khairpur Sindh in what was to become the first major attack on the Shia Muslims.

Sectarian violence against Shias became increasingly commonplace in the seventies and eighties as the Islamisation program was rolled out in Pakistan. The main aggressor behind such violence was the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), a group formed in 1985 with a mandate to cleanse Pakistan of its Shia population. In 1996, the SSP also gave birth to an offshoot group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a violent offshoot that intelligence officials say has become one of the country’s major security threats.

Approximately 4000 Shias are estimated to have been killed since the early nineties in what is increasingly coming to be known as Pakistan’s slow genocide against Shia Muslims. Sectarian violence became very present in Pakistan over the course of the 21st Century. Many are leaving or have already left to seek better prospects abroad as the sectarian divide becomes more entrenched.

Local prospects show no sign of improving: anti-Shia sentiment is only settling further in society, as evidenced by the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)-led September 2020 protest that was attended by over 30,000 people – the largest anti-Shia protest in two decades.


Hazaras are the most vulnerable Shia denomination. They are an ethnic community living in Balochistan that follow a particular version of Shia Islam. Numbered at just around 650,000-900,000, they are mostly restricted to two ghettoized towns in Quetta – Alamdar Road and Hazara Town. Hazaras are at particular risk of discrimination against due to their distinct appearance which make them easily identifiable.

According to a 2018 report titled “Understanding the Agonies of Ethnic Hazaras” published by the National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan, members of this community have been consistently persecuted by religious fanatics and terrorists since 1999 resulting in more than 2000 deaths. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been behind most of these attacks, including the January and February 2013 attacks that claimed the lives of at least 180 Hazaras. After this incident, the Hazara community was forced to delay the burial rites of their loved ones in protest and in hope of government action. The government responded by temporarily suspending the provincial government and imposing federal rule.

Life for Hazaras is especially difficult as they live in the constant shadow of trauma that stems from the killings of their families and community members. The security provided to them in their two enclaves also fails to prevent attacks periodically. The matter is so grave that their neighborhoods have been likened to outdoor jails. They are unable to leave their community in fear of their life outside of the little government protection they have in their enclaves. Many are killed on their way to religious pilgrimage in Iran, as buses crossing the border for pilgrimages are a particular target for sectarian attacks. Others are brutally murdered while out for work in and around Quetta in instances as recent as January 2020 when 10 Hazaras were picked and shot at point blank range by ISIS.

Little effort is made by the government in providing protection and eliminating threats against the Hazara community and there are few options other than fleeing the country.

Prominent Figure

Qazi Muhammad Esa

Qazi Muhammad Esa was a lawyer, a prominent leader of the Pakistan movement, and a politician after Partition. He was a member of the Hazara community.

His commitment to Pakistan dates back to his time in Bombay: after his studies in England, he met Jinnah and took on his vision of a separate homeland for South Asia’s Muslims. To this end, he worked towards organizing Muslim League within Balochistan. A few years later, he would go on to do the same in NWFP. In this way, he was behind both Balochistan and NWFP’s decision to join the Dominion of Pakistan that was to separate from British India.

His son, Qazi Faez Essa is currently a judge at the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Little effort is made by the government in providing protection and eliminating threats against the Hazara community and there are few options other than fleeing the country.

Other Shia Sects

Pakistan is home to many other Shia communities, including Bohras, Dawoodis, Ismailis and Khojas. These communities have long histories in Pakistan and are settled across Punjab and major cities such as Hyderabad, Karachi and Peshawar. Indeed, members of these communities were present from the very beginning of Pakistan, and supported Jinnah on his vision of the new nation. These communities tend to be close-knit and concentrated in certain areas.

In recent years, with growing hatred towards all minority communities, sects such as Ismailis and Bohras have been subject to targeted attacks. In 2012 and 2015, the Bohra community was attacked in Karachi, resulting in large numbers of casualties and growing fear of their safety. Similarly, a bus carrying Ismailis was brutally attacked in 2015, leaving nearly 50 members of their community dead. These groups are increasingly otherized and persecuted as Pakistan grows more intolerant.

Prominent Figure

Aga Khan III

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, was the 48th Imam of the Ismaili sect of Islam, and one of the founders of the All-India Muslim League. He lead the Muslim League as its first official president until 1912. He was a great supporter of the Pakistan Movement, and was nominated by Allama Iqbal to represent the Muslims of India at the historic Round Table Conference in London.

The Aga Khan was then nominated to represent India to the League of Nations in 1932, where he fought to protect the rights of Muslim across the globe. He viewed Islam as a global religion and dedicated his life to Muslims across the world. He was elected President of the League of Nations in 1937.

Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, was the 48th Imam of the Ismaili sect of Islam, and one of the founders of the All-India Muslim League. He lead the Muslim League as its first official president until 1912. He was a great supporter of the Pakistan Movement, and was nominated by Allama Iqbal to represent the Muslims of India at the historic Round Table Conference in London.

The Aga Khan was then nominated to represent India to the League of Nations in 1932, where he fought to protect the rights of Muslim across the globe. He viewed Islam as a global religion and dedicated his life to Muslims across the world. He was elected President of the League of Nations in 1937.


Christians make up the second largest religious minority group in Pakistan. Almost 75% of them are ethnically Punjabi. Most of these Punjabi Christians were once Dalit Hindus who converted under colonial rule to escape caste discrimination. These Christian converts are subsequently seen as part of a “depressed class”, language that is adopted from the caste system. Sadly, a new kind of discrimination has targeted them yet again in Pakistan. Christians are most often relegated to the lowest of the low – the chooras and the bhangis with whom even sharing a glass of water can be seen as an impure act. The idea that the Christians – or any other group – are seen as impure, counters the idea that that “Pakistan” translates to “the land of the Pure”.

With over 80% manual sewer cleaning jobs being held by Christians all over Pakistan, this profession is being ingrained into their identities. For example, Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority (CDA) has 1,500 sanitation workers and all of them are Christian.

This is in contrast to the situation only a couple of decades ago where Christians were once the leading purveyors of education in the country. The nationalization program of the seventies spurred on by the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto effectively severed Christian ties from its heritage. This was followed by General Zia Ul Haq’s moral policing program of the eighties, which involved a ban on most forms of divorce. General Zia’s policing on marriage resulted in forcing many Christian women to convert to Islam in order to have “legitimate” marriages.


The Christian community which supported Jinnah’s Pakistan in hopes of a secular and caste-free society has found itself in a Pakistan growing increasingly indifferent and apathetic of its minorities. Christians, like the other especially vulnerable non-Muslim groups, are left to fend for themselves in the wake of Pakistan’s obsession of purification and cleansing. Seventy six Christians were killed in Pakistan during 2017 which according to Open Doors, a US-based NGO, was the highest number of Christians killed in the world during a year. Pakistan also topped the list of the highest number of church attacks in a country, accounting for 600 of the total 1329 churches that were attacked in the same year. Christians are particularly liable to accusations of blasphemy and targeted mob violence: as of January 2021, of the 53 prisoners in jail for the faith, 31 were Christians. Though the Christian community has had some gains, such as the reinstatement of the Christian Divorce Act, their lives in Pakistan remains distressing as discrimination against them reaches into their daily lives.

Prominent Figure

Cecil Chaudhry

Cecil Chaudhry, son of renowned photojournalist F.E. Chaudhry, was a Christian fighter pilot with the Pakistan Air Force, an educator, and an activist. He fought valiantly in both the 1965 and 1971 wars against India which also earned him the Sitara-e-Jurat (Star of Courage, a medal of honor).

After retiring from the forces, he took up the cause of education with the Punjab Education Foundation which led him to the principalship of two schools. Chaudhry also worked for the betterment of children with disabilities. His efforts in activism also saw him affiliating with Shahbaz Bhatti through the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. He is also known to have been a part of the National Commission for Justice and Peace.


Ahmadis are the smallest prominent minority group in the country at just 0.22% of the total population. The community has been subject to controversy since the 1890’s when Mirza Ghulam Ahmed started the Ahmadiyya movement which was a reformist, messianic movement related to Islam. While his early reformist efforts were appreciated by reformers and revivalist thinkers, support started dwindling with the advent of the Pakistan movement. Most Pakistani religious clerics, the Ulema, have come to think of the movement as heretic. The effects of this belief started manifesting from as early as 1953 in the form of the Lahore Riots. These riots were one of the earliest instances of religious discrimination in the country: they called for the resignation of Pakistan’s first foreign minister Zafrullah Khan, the removal of other Ahmadis from top government offices, and the declaration of Ahmadis as being non-Muslims

While the Lahore Riots’ demands were initially rejected, history would come to show that Sir Zafrullah Khan did resign, that Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim, and that they are now completely cut off from government offices and public service. The removal of Atif Mian, one of the top economists of the world, from the Economic Advisory Council in 2018 is perhaps one of the most recent instances of the lasting effects of a 70 year old ultimatum.

Many blame the long standing policy of appeasing religious clerics for the current situation. Ahmadis have been deemed wajib ul qatal (worthy of being murdered), are the only minority that is singled out in the Constitution. The state forbids them from professing their faith in public (which includes not being able to use Islamic greetings, worship in mosques, or write anything Islamic). These laws conflict with the idea of Pakistani citizens’ right to freedom of worship. General Zia Ul Haq’s XX Ordinance, widely known as the anti-Ahmadi blasphemy laws of 1986, codified and legitimized anti-Ahmadi actions.

Ahmadis continue to be ostracized and persecuted daily: in the 21st Century, anti-Ahmadi social media campaigns have dominated platforms sporadically, and violence against the community is often encouraged by the media. They are targeted with large scale violent attacks (such as the Taliban attack on two Ahmadi spots of worship in 2014), are disenfranchised, and are the receipts of continuous hate speech.

Ahmadis are at high risk throughout Pakistan. Their only place of relative refuge is Rabwah (elevated place in Arabic), – a city founded on land that was leased from the government of Pakistan. However, Rabwah continues to be a place of targeted attacks. In 1989, the Punjab police filed an FIR (First Investigation Report) against the entire population of the city for displaying Quranic texts. Ten years later, the Punjab assembly passed a resolution that officially changed the name to “Chenab Nagar” because the word Rabwah appears in the Quran.

In appeasing its clerics, Pakistan has succeeded in the otherization and ostracization of Ahmadis both legislatively and socially. This has had drastic and dangerous effects on the community: on a conservative estimate, the government has killed 260, assaulted 379, arrested upwards of 1200, and booked upwards of 1100 Ahmadis since General Zia’s institutionalization of Ahmadi persecution in 1984.

Prominent Figure

Dr. Abdus Salam

Dr. Abdus Salam, an Ahmadi, was born in Santokh Das, Punjab in 1926. From an early age he showed signs of intelligence especially within Mathematics and Science. He graduated from the Punjab University at the age of 20 with a Masters in Mathematics.

Abdus Salam would then go on to continue his studies at Oxford in the United Kingdom where he would achieve even more academic feats and graduate as a physicist. It was in England, that after a couple of years of teaching, he went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, a goal he had slowly been working hard for since his early days in Pakistan.

He is considered by the international community to be the first Muslim to win the Nobel Prize.


Sikhism, a religion founded in the 15th Century on the land that was to become Pakistan, is fast becoming otherized in its homeland. The Sikhs of the early 20th Century, who were no strangers to the religious persecution of their community, presciently saw the potential downfalls of Partition. They condemned the Lahore Resolution of 1940 by likening their community’s future in Pakistan to that of their past (a time which was characteristic of Sikh persecutions at the hand of Muslims). This fear turned out to be so embedded within the social fabric of the Sikhs that their entire population in Pakistan dropped by 99% in the five year period from 1946.

While there used to be as many as 2 million Sikhs in the lands that would become Pakistan, this number has decreased so much that the community was not even considered a separate identity in the 2017 census. Indeed, Sikhs were said to make up a small share of the 0.07% of the total population that is categorized as “Others” in prior censuses. In the wake of a lack of official statistics, minority rights groups and activists have claimed their total population to have dwindled to around 8,000 people – a sharp decrease from 40,000 in the last twenty years.

The majority of the left over Sikh population now lives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where they have been subjected to varied persecution. While parts of the KP were under de-facto control of the Taliban, they were the only minority group forced to pay the Jizya, a fundamentalist Islamic tax levied on non-Muslims. Failure to pay this tax has resulted in death and torture for Sikhs, and members of their community have also been been targeted in kidnappings for ransom in these areas.

All this is not to discount some of the recent positive developments that have been implemented for the local and international Sikh community. The Punjab Anand Karaj Bill of 2018 was a historical piece of legislation that repealed the 1909 Anand Marriage Act that allows official state recognition of a Sikh marriage. Furthermore, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor in 2019 was viewed by the international community as the most significant milestone in the country’s relation with Sikhs. The open corridor allows Sikhs from India to access the second holiest site in their religion.

Prominent Figure

Soran Singh

Soran Singh was a Sikh doctor and politician. He was appointed to be the Minister of Minorities for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013.

He played an active role in the KP Assembly on the points of minorities, and achieved the restoration of ancient Sikh temples such as Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh Sahib at Jogiwara in Peshawar.


Hindus make up the largest non-Muslim minority in Pakistan. Though they made up almost 12% of the population at the time of Partition their number continues to dwindle over the years. Early Pakistan witnessed a massive drain of Hindus to India in the initial years of Partition, as most upper-caste Hindus left the fledgling nation. A major chunk of the Hindu population was also cut off in 1971 with the separation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. Since then, they have consistently made up under 2% of the total population of the country.

hile almost 90% of the Hindu population is concentrated in rural Sindh, there are small pockets in Peshawar and Islamabad. Regardless of their province of residence, Hindus are delegated to being second class citizens in Pakistan by virtue of their being non-Muslims. According to local Hindu Leader and MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the systemic discrimination at the hand of the Pakistani state and its Muslim citizens is such that as many as 5000 Hindus a year find themselves having no choice but to emigrate.


 The fact that most of the Hindus who remained after Partition belong to the lower castes makes them especially more vulnerable to all types of violence. The category of the ‘scheduled castes’ still remains in Pakistan. The majority of these castes, including Kohlis, Meghawars and Bheels, live in Sindh and Southern Punjab. They are treated as ‘untouchable’ and often face daily segregation and discrimintation, despite the Constitution prohibiting discrimination on the basis of caste.

Some breakthroughs in the treatment of the Hindu community have occurred in recent years. The Sindh Hindu Marriage Act of 2016 and the Hindu Marriage Act of 2017 together marked the first legislation dealing with a Hindu personal law in Pakistan. The set of laws provide Hindu couples with legal proof of their marriage: this prevents Hindu women and children being as vulnerable to marriage fraud or forced conversions. Similarly, the Hindu Marriage Amendment Act of 2018 accords the right of separation to both men and women and gives women specifically the added right of re-marrying.

Prominent Figure

Rana Bhagwandas

Rana Bhagwandas was born in 1942 to a Hindu Sindhi family in Larkana. He studied law and became a successful lawyer in Sindh. Following his initial career he became a prominent judge who was then appointed as a senior judge and acting chief justice in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

He was a great supporter and defender of minority rights and maintained that Pakistan’s Constitution and legal system was made to support and protect minorities. He was also a great defender of women’s rights in Pakistan, and opposed the practice of honor killings of women in rural areas.

Other Minorities


Parsis are a small ethno-religious community whose ancestors migrated to the region from Iran many centuries ago. They are followers of Zoroastrianism. The largest segment of this community can be found in Karachi, and their numbers are little over a thousand. The Parsi community continues to shrink due to migration.

Prominent Parsi Community Members

Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta

Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta was the first elected Mayor of the city of Karachi. He is often still referred to as “Baba-e-Karachi” or, the “Maker of Modern Karachi”. Many attribute the initial developments of Karachi as a vast metropolis to Mehta’s oversight and forward planning.

He is best known for his tireless work during the 1919 influenza outbreak across the city.


The Baha’i faith was a religion that entered into the region from the Persian Empire hundreds of years ago. They have been recognised as a religious minority group since 1981 and given legal rights. They are a relatively small community, ranging within a population of a few thousand. Bahais have been traditionally persecuted in Iran, and in Pakistan face a fraction of such discrimination. For example, Pakistan has banned the Baha’is from going on their sacred pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


Buddhism has deep historical roots in the region of Pakistan. Many Buddhists consider the site of Taxila to be one of the holiest places of religion, as the ashes of the Buddha are said to be found there. There are few thousands of practicing Buddhists in Pakistan and they mainly reside in Sindh. With that said, many of their holiest and most historical sites are further north in Pakistan, and are constant targets of destruction by extremist groups. The Taliban was responsible for the destruction of most of the Buddhist relics left in the region

Kihals and Mors

The Kihals and Mors are small indigenous communities of boat people. They are nomadic peoples who make their living through fishing and basket making. They face some forms of discrimination, such as disenfranchisement, as they are not eligible for national identity cards. They are also often considered low caste non-Muslims in certain areas, and thus treated as “untouchables”. Rapid development of the land along the Indus River, alongside climate change, threaten their livelihoods and existence.


The Kalasha are an indigenous community in Chitral. There are only a few thousand members of this community remaining, and they have a unique culture and beliefs. Their folklore centers around their three valleys of residence, also called the Kalasha Desh. They are facing increasing threats to their separate way of life, including forced conversions to Islam, attacks by extremist groups in the region, and threats of land-grabbing by nearby locals.

Makranis and Sheedis

This community is considered to have migrated from East Africa many thousands of years ago. They are primarily based along the Makran river in Balochistan and lower Sindh. There is also a great population of their community in the city of Karachi’s Lyari district. Though most Sheedis are Muslims, they face discrimination on the grounds of their skin colour across Pakistan. Their most important festival, known as the “Sheedi Maila” was only recently reinstated after government attempts to block it for several years.


Zikris are Baloch people who follow the Zikri sect of Islam. They are mainly found in the Makran areas of Balochistan and are under increasing levels of persecution. Many extremists believe that the Zikri Baloch are non-Muslim and should be subject to the same fate as Ahmadis. This is a fate which the Zikri Baloch are desperately trying to stop. They have been subject to targeted attacks, mainly in the Awaran district of Balochistan.