Since the inception of the country of Pakistan, religious minorities has witnesses a steady shrinking in their political influence. In many cases, the number of seats set aside for religious minorities in Pakistan’s legislative bodies has remained the same despite significant expansion in these bodies. Also, the system by which religious minorities are added to Pakistan’s government robs their communities of influence. Instead of being directly elected, religious minorities seats are filled through appointment by the ruling party. This makes the representatives of religious minorities nothing more than token members of the communities they are meant to represent. Will Pakistan make the reforms necessary to give proper influence to its religious minorities?
11/10/2017 Pakistan (The Express Tribune) – It is unacceptable to look at people through the narrow prism of religion, ethnicity or caste. However, if people are discriminated against on these grounds, then one has to act on his/her conscience, simply because a human being must act humanely. But this alone is never enough. Discrimination must also be exposed empirically and analytically.
Pakistan’s parliament takes not even an hour to pass the amendment to clear the ground for a convicted person to become the head of a political party. Nearly 100 meetings of the Electoral Reform Committee were held before its members could finalize the Election Bill 2017. Yet the committee has not bothered to improve the representation of minorities since 2002.
Consider. While reserved seats for women in legislative bodies continue to rise, the representation of minorities has declined drastically. Even as concentration of political power continues to deepen in a few dynasties, the political and social space for minorities is shrinking. This would seem almost deliberate.
History and data uncover the truth. In 1985, ten seats (or 2.4%) were reserved for minorities in the National Assembly of 237. It dropped to 2.9% in 2002 when the military government of General Musharraf increased National Assembly seats to 342. While he should be appreciated for replacing the ‘separate electorate’ with the ‘joint electorate’ system, the method of their election turned into a selection and reportedly ‘it turned minority MPs into toadies’ and it further strengthened the stranglehold of party leaders.
Sadly, the representation of minorities also declined in all provincial assemblies too. For instance, in the Sindh Assembly until 1997 elections, there were nine out of 109 seats, which remain nine even today while the total number of seats had jumped to 168 in 2002. Resultantly, minorities’ quota was almost halved from 8.2% to 5.3%. In the Punjab Assembly, too, minorities’ quota declined from 3.2% to 2.1%.
Almost all parliamentary parties have been in power somewhere in the country. They overhauled the Constitution twice but didn’t improve an iota of representation for minorities. In fact, the injustice continues. Punjab has witnessed slaughter in the physical and political sense too. Many areas where minorities were in substantial majority were divided across union councils in order to suppress the electoral majority of a minority. For instance, Warispura neighborhood in Faisalabad city with 16,000-plus Christians — was divided across three union councils. Similar delimitation exercises were held in some districts of Sindh. In order to suppress the majority of Hindus in these districts, constituencies were carved across two or three districts. For instance, NA-235 spreads over Sanghar-Mirpurkhas and Umerkot. As the new delimitation is going to take place soon, it is imperative to end this shameless gerrymandering. Let’s keep an eye on that.