Six years after the ‘historic’ judgment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani laying out various measures for the protection of minorities, the implementation of most, if not all, of its directives is conspicuous by its absence.
Justice Jillani had taken suo motu notice about the state of minorities’ affairs in the country following the deadly terrorist attack on All Saints Church Peshawar in 2013, coupled with attacks on Hindus in various areas of the country and cases of forced conversions of Chitral’s Kalash community.
The landmark judgment had called for the establishment of a task force by the government to promote interfaith harmony, changing of educational curricula to better integrate minorities, an end to hate speech and discrimination against minorities on all media, formation of a national council for minorities to work towards ensuring their constitutional rights, creation of a special police force dedicated to protecting minorities’ worship places, creation and implementation of special education and jobs quotas for minorities by the federal and provincial governments, and for strict action by relevant authorities in case of any acts of violence against minorities’ places of worship.
The verdict provided the most robust roadmap to-date in terms of protecting the country’s beleaguered minorities and was rightly hailed, both nationally and internationally, by rights activists and minorities’ members. However, the widespread fanfare morphed into despair as it appeared the judgment would remain on paper only.
Haroon Sarbdiyal, who works for minorities’ rights in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stressed that despite its unambiguous directions, the 2014 verdict has not been implemented. He pointed out the various instances of religious discrimination and violence against minorities in the six years since the judgment was passed, adding that while a police force has been dedicated to protect Peshawar’s three churches and two Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras each, no such deployment has been made to safeguard minorities’ worship places in the rest of the province.
All Saints Church Peshawar’s Father Shahzad Murad said after the 2014 judgment, minorities were hopeful that their lives would be protected and their rights safeguarded, but this has not come to pass. Minorities’ leaders feel the elimination of hate curricula from schools, with the addition of a minorities’ quota in educational institutes, is key in the social uplift of their neglected communities. At present, where jobs quotas do exist for minorities, the seats remain vacant for lack of qualified candidates.
Recently, the federal government notified a minorities’ commission in line with Justice Jillani’s verdict but the action was questioned by human rights groups and minorities’ representatives who stated that it lacked legislative backing — as laid out in the 2014 judgment — and would thus be powerless.