Shias

Shias make up the largest of Pakistan’s Muslim minority. While there are no official population figures, estimates claim they make up as much as 15-20% of the total population of Pakistan[1].

Anti-Shia sentiments started ripening in the fifties with several efforts by TAS, the Tanzim-e-Ahle-Sunnat, to ban Azadari, the tradition of mourning the events leading up to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The sixties saw Shias starting to facing 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 minority group.

Sectarian violence against Shias became increasingly commonplace in the seventies and eighties as the Islamisation program was rolled out in Pakistan[2]. The main aggressor behind such violence was the Sipah e Sahaba, a group formed in 1985 with a mandate to cleanse Pakistan of its Shia population which in 1996 also gave birth to an offshoot group – LeJ, the Lashkar e Jhangvi, a much more violent group 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[3]. Many are leaving or have already left to seek better prospects abroad as the sectarian divide gets more entrenched.

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

[1] “Pakistani Shias Live in Terror as Sectarian Violence Increases.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Oct. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/21/pakistani-shias-live-in-terror-as-sectarian-violence-increases.

[2] Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sectarian Violence, 1 July 1999, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8248.html [accessed 17 March 2021]

[3] Hussain, Murtaza. “Pakistan’s Shia Genocide.” Pakistan News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 26 Nov. 2012, www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2012/11/26/pakistans-shia-genocide.

Hazaras

Hazaras are the most vulnerable Shia denominated ethnic community living in Balochistan. With a population of over 650,000 people, they are mostly restricted to two areas in Quetta – Alamdar Road and Hazara Town[1]. The discrimination against Hazaras is doubly intersectional since their physical appearances also 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 where the community was forced to delay the burial rites of their loved ones in protest and in hope of government action. The government responded by 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 neighbourhoods have been likened to ghettos and jails in the past[2]. 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 like in the Mastung when their buses are especially vulnerable to being intercepted. 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

[1] “Shi’a and Hazaras.” Minority Rights Group, 6 Feb. 2021, minorityrights.org/minorities/shia-and-hazaras/.

[2] Kermani, Secunder. “Quetta’s Hazara: The Community Caged in Its Own City.” BBC News, BBC, 12 Dec. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42219669.

Hindus

Hindus make up the largest minority in Pakistan. Although they made up almost 12 percent of the population at the time of partition, their number has continued to dwindle over the years. The country faced a massive brain drain in its initial years as most of the well-established upper-class Hindus migrated to India. A major chunk of the Hindu population was also cut off in 1971 with the separation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Since then, they have consistently made up under 2% of the total population of the country.

While 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 2nd-grade citizens in Pakistan by virtue of their being non-Muslims. The fact that most of the remaining Hindus belong to the lower castes makes them especially more vulnerable to all types of violence and systemic discrimination.

Amidst all of this, some progress was achieved for the Hindu community in the form of the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act of 2016 and the 2017 Hindu Marriage Act. This set of laws marked the first legislature dealing with a Hindu personal law in Pakistan[2]. It provides Hindu couples with legal proof of their marriage, the previous lack of which often left women and children extremely vulnerable to various kinds of marriage fraud. 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.

[1] Haider, Irfan. “5,000 Hindus Migrating to India Every Year, NA Told.” DAWN.COM, 13 May 2014, www.dawn.com/news/1105830

[2] Raza, Sara. “The Hindu Marriage Act 2017: A Review.” Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law, 24 Feb. 2020, sahsol.lums.edu.pk/law-journal/hindu-marriage-act-2017-review.

Christians 

Christians make up the second-largest religious minority group in Pakistan. Almost 75% of them are ethnically Punjabi.[1] Most of these Punjabi Christians were once Dalit Hindus who converted under colonial rule to escape caste discrimination[2]. Sadly, a new kind of discrimination has targeted them yet again in Pakistan. Christians are often relegated to the lowest of the low – the chooras and the bhangis with whom even sharing a glass of water, as exemplified by Asia bibi, can be seen as impure. The plight of the Christians and any other person or group, who is seen as impure, is especially put in perspective upon the consideration that the word “Pakistan”  translates literally to the “The land of the Pure”.

With over 80% of manual sewer cleaning jobs being held by Christians all over Pakistan, this profession is increasingly being made central to their identities[3]. 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[4]. The nationalization program of the seventies spurred on by the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto effectively severed Christian ties from its past heritage. 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 with purification and cleansing.

Seventy-six Christians were killed in Pakistan during 2017 which according to Open Doors, a US-based NGO for the protection of persecuted Christians around the world, was the highest number of Christians killed in the world during a year. It 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.

In some positive news, Christians were once again allowed the civil right to divorce in 2017 after a de facto ban of 36 years when section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act was restored in a Lahore High Court ruling. This was a clause that President Zia Ul Haq had banned in 1981 as part of his moral policing program of the eighties. Accordingly, a divorce could only be sought in the case of adultery but this made the process humiliating for many. It ended up forcing many Christian women to convert to Islam or to be married according to the Islamic tradition.

[1] Douglas Jacobsen (17 March 2021). The World’s Christians: Who they are, Where they are, and How they got there. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 112

[2] ibid

[3] Abi-habib, Maria. “Sewer Cleaners Wanted in Pakistan: Only Christians Need Apply.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/04/world/asia/pakistan-christians-sweepers.html.

[4] Hasnain, Ali. “Christian Community’s Role in Modern Education in Pakistan and the Price They Paid.” Daily Times, 15 Sept. 2020, dailytimes.com.pk/666886/christian-communitys-role-in-modern-education-in-pakistan-and-the-price-they-paid/.

Ahmadis

Ahmadis are the smallest prominent minority group in the country at just 0.22% of the total population. The community has been subject to public discourse since the 1890s when Mirza Ghulam Ahmed started the Ahmadiyya movement. While his early reformist efforts were appreciated by some, support started dwindling with the advent of the Pakistan movement. Most Pakistani religious clerics have come to think of the movement as heretical, which manifested itself as early as 1953 in the form of the Lahore Riots. This was one of the earliest instances of religious discrimination in the country and called for the resignation of Pakistan’s first foreign minister, Zafrullah Khan, the removal of other Ahmadis from top government offices as well as proclaiming that Ahmadis were non-Muslims.

While this ultimatum was initially rejected, Sir Zafrullah Khan did resign and go into self-exile, Ahmadis were eventually declared non-Muslims, and made ineligible to stand for government office 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 where Ahmadis having 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 posing as Muslims and professing their faith in public which includes not being able to use Islamic terminology whether written or oral. Displays of the Kalimah, the testament of faith, or any other Islamic text on buildings or graves are often vandalized and desecrated as part of the culture of religious vigilantism that was created by the anti-Ahmadi blasphemy laws of 1986, formally also known as Zia Ul Haq’s XX Ordinance. The grave of Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first and only Nobel laureate, who the world also considers the first Muslim Nobel laureate was defaced when the word “Muslim” was removed from his epitaph on orders from the government.

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 – but even it has not gone undisturbed. 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 to “Chenab Nagar” because the word Rabwah appears in the Quran.

In appeasing its clerics and caving into their demands periodically, Pakistan has succeeded in the otherization and ostracization of Ahmadis both legislatively and socially. There have been 260 killings, 379 assaults, more than 1200 arrests, and upwards of 1100 instances of Ahmadis being booked since 1984, when persecution against them was institutionalized as part of Zia ul Haq’s constitutional amendments[1].

[1] Al-Baker, Amna, et al. “Lost at Home: Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims.” Pulitzer Center, 28 Jan. 2019, pulitzercenter.org/stories/lost-home-pakistans-ahmadi-muslims.

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