Only three days to its 62nd birthday, Pakistan is celebrating on Tuesday, August 11, Minorities Day, a move many see as part of the South Asian Muslim country’s efforts to polish its image after a recent bloody attack on Christians. “The decision has been taken not only to show solidarity with all minorities, including Christians, who are the equal citizens of Pakistan, but also to highlight their role in the creation and development of the country,” Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti told IslamOnline.net.
Different programs, including rallies, seminars and conferences have been chalked out by the government and NGOs to express solidarity with minorities nationwide. Jammat-e-Islami, the country’s largest religious party, is going to hold an interfaith dialogue, which will be attended by Muslim, Christian, and Hindu leaders, to promote interfaith harmony. “Minorities have played a vital role in the creation and then development of Pakistan,” insists Bhatti, a Christian. “And they are proud of their services.” Christians make up 3 percent of Pakistan’s 170 million population, followed by Hindus who make up 2 percent. A majority of Christians, who are mainly involved in education, health and sanitary sectors, resides in Punjab, the country’s most populous and richest province. Hindus, mostly involved in businesses, are considered much richer than Christians and mostly live in the southern Sindh province, the second largest province.
“We have decided to observe this day on August 11 because it has a special significance,” said Minister Bhatti. “On that day in 1947, the founder of the nation (Mohammad Ali Jinnah), while addressing the first constituent assembly of Pakistan, announced that no Pakistani would be discriminated against on the basis of religion, sect, race, caste or creed,” recalled the minister. “They all will be equal Pakistanis.” Messages “I never felt myself vulnerable here. This is my own country, where my forefathers were born and are buried,” Vijay, a Christian, told IOL. Bhatti, also a central leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), asserted that the Minorities Day will send several messages. “This will give a message to the perpetrators and masterminds of Gojra incident, that there is no place for religious hatred in Pakistan.” Six Christians were killed last week by a violent mob over a reported desecration of the Quran. “The government will fully protect the lives and properties of minorities, and will not allow any group or individual to use religious sentiments to hurt them.”
The minister said dedicating a special day for minorities also promotes the image of Pakistan. “By observing this day, we want to give a clear message to the world that the Pakistani society is based on religious harmony, social justice, and human equality.” Though shaken by the Gojra incident, members of religious minorities generally feel protected and comfortable with their Muslim countrymen. “It was, no doubt, a horrible incident, but I would say it was the act of some sick individuals,” Vijay Dravid, who works as a sanitary worker at a local club, told IOL. “It is a matter of satisfaction for us that the majority of Muslims, including religious scholars, not merely condemned that attack but also helped the victims.” Vijay and his family live with seven Muslim neighbors, who too are employees of the same club. “I never felt myself vulnerable here. This is my own country, where my forefathers were born and are buried.”
Amr Lal, who works as a peon at a local firm, agrees. “Hundreds of Muslims were killed in Indian Gujrat a few years back, but not even a single Hindu was killed in Pakistan,” he said referring to the killing of some 2000 Muslims, many hacked and burned to death, by Hindu extremists a few years ago. “Being a Hindu, I remember the last anti-Hindu violence in Pakistan in 1992, following the demolition of Babri Mosque in India,” recalled Lal. “Since that, there has been no violence against Hindus.” Lal, however, calls for more development funds and scholarships for minorities. “We don’t have access to quality education, though most of the prestigious schools and colleges have been set up by Hindus and Christians before partition (in 1947). Therefore, the government should provide more educational facilities to the minorities.”