It seems there are many slips between the cup and lips as far as the establishment of the Sindh Minorities Rights Commission is concerned as despite the provincial assembly’s passing of a bill in this regard in November 2016, the matter has yet to make any headway.
According to Nand Kumar Goklani, a lawmaker from the opposition benches who had tabled the bill, the then-Sindh governor Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui had returned the proposed law with objections and it has since remained pending. “We now plan to table it again in the Sindh Assembly as we had put in plenty of efforts in drafting the bill for the establishment of such a commission for minorities [rights] in Sindh,” asserted Kumar.
Then the parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, Goklani had worked on the draft bill in collaboration with South Asia Partnership (SAP) — a reputed NGO — and prominent civil society representatives, including those from minorities.
The proposed commission will be headed by a person from a religious minority with a total of 11 members and would cover all issues concerning the country’s minorities. A third of the members will be women, besides two civil society activists, and a lawyer and youth member each.
The draft law states further that the commission should comprise all ethnic and religious groups from minority communities with experience of working for minority rights. It shall examine policy, programmes and other measures taken by the provincial government on issues relating to empowerment, protection, political participation, representation, education and equality of minorities, and assess their implementation along with presenting suitable recommendations to the relevant authorities.
Furthermore, it shall review all laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of minorities and suggest repeal, amendment or new legislation essential to eliminate discrimination, safeguard and promote interest and welfare of minorities, and achieve equality before the law in accordance with the Constitution. The commission shall also have the powers of a civil court trying a suit under Code of Civil Procedure 1908 in order to inquire into complaints.
Sindh houses a significant minority population, with several districts featuring a majority of Hindus.
“Hindus have faced serious issues of forced conversions of Hindu girls and many families have migrated to India,” said Jai Parkash, a member of the National Lobbying Delegation of Minorities. He recalled that in the last five years alone, a total of 166 cases of forced conversion of girls have been compiled by media monitors.
“The cases of conversion of men and mass conversions across Sindh are in addition to this and these figures are not consolidated yet,” he explained, adding that, “entire villages of Hindus are converted at various instances in Sindh.”
At the federal level, the government notified a commission earlier this year — six years after a landmark Supreme Court judgment directed it. The judgment, authored by then-chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani in 2014, had called for widespread reforms regarding the protection of minorities in the country. Haris Khalique, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, explained that the federal commission was to be formed through an act of parliament — which the present body lacks — after which secondary legislation is to be enacted by the provinces to come up with subordinate commissions.
M Prakash, who worked on the proposed law, said the commission will not only help stop forced conversions “but there are matters relating to our properties like temples, etc. that go unnoticed as well.” “Once the commission is set up and starts working, we will be taking up all such civil and criminal matters through this commission,” he contended.