Pakistan’s marginalised minorities have welcomed the Punjab government’s recent approval of a two percent quota for religious minorities in public higher education institutes of the province.
Among religious minorities, Christians form the largest group in Punjab. Data shows that the majority of the province’s minority population, be it Hindu or Christians, come from extremely marginalised communities — with Christians mostly employed in low-paid sanitation work while Hindus hailing from the scheduled castes and thus being outcast — which will benefit from the quota as it will provide an opportunity for upward mobility against all institutional and cultural barriers.
Minorities’ representatives also hope the move by the country’s largest province can be successfully replicated by other provinces and territories.
Before the end of the previous government, the then-Punjab higher education minister Syed Raza Ali Gillani had constituted a committee to deliberate on the introduction of a minority quota for higher education but there was resistance from representatives from public universities and the matter was shelved.
With the present government having approved the quota now, the ball is now in the court of minority communities to seize the moment. Civil society groups working for minorities need to undertake lobbying and advocacy efforts with stakeholders to make the best use of this opportunity and help lift their minorities’ out of poverty.
Dr Sabir Michael of Karachi University’s Social Work Department said the quota has been a longstanding demand of minorities and will help the government as well since it will ensure the availability of qualified professionals who can then be hired as per the government’s five percent job quota for minorities.
“The education quota was introduced to improve the lives of people hailing from minority communities,” stated Ejaz Alam Augustine, Punjab’s Minority Affairs and Human Rights minister. He added that the job quota for minority groups was going to waste as there were no “suitable candidates” available.
Ayra Indrias Patras, member of the National Delegation for Minorities in Pakistan, said the National Lobbying Delegation, a group of 24 members of minority communities, had been struggling for the inclusion of a minority quota in higher education institutes since 2015.
“It is indeed a momentous occasion and if implemented in letter and spirit, will provide students of downtrodden communities access to educational institutes and also promote diversity and inclusivity in the social fabric of society,” she emphasised.