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Pakistan: Christmas Day and Rights of Minorities

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By Sajjad Shaukat

Besides Quaid-e-Azam Day, every year, December 25 is also celebrated as the Charismas Day across Pakistan.

On this very Day, members of the Christian community attend special services at illuminated churches where prayers are offered for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan. Residential colonies and churches are decorated with twinkling lights and stars. On the occasion, Pakistanis also say, “Happy Christmas” to the Christians and also participate in their celebrations.

On the Christmas eve, in December 2016, ahead of Christmas Day, former Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique had inaugurated a special Christmas Train which travelled across the country spreading Christmas cheer. The Xmas Peace Train that left Peshawar on Dec 22 reached Karachi on Dec 31. Ex- Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered that there to be zero loadshedding on the Charismas Day in the country. Former President Mamnoon Hussain and P.M Nawaz also extended their heartiest felicitations on the occasion and wished Christians in Pakistan and all over the world a merry Christmas.

They said: “The government is striving to promote interfaith harmony and discourage religious discrimination.”

The government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, which is also promoting interfaith harmony, will also give a positive message to the Christians on this Day.

It is notable that in December 2017, the then Punjab Minister of Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Khalil Tahir Sandhu had stated: “Minorities in Pakistan have complete equality and liberty to enjoy basic rights at par with other citizens and perform their religious obligations in a free environment.”

Every year, the Punjab government provided a special grant for religious festivals like Christmas, Holi/Devali etc. In the government jobs, 5% quota had been allocated for minority, under which more than 5 thousand youth had been given jobs in public institutions.

As regards the state of minorities in Pakistan, a delegation of U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom visited the country in May 2017 and called on the then Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Khalil Tahir Sandhu in Lahore. The delegation led by Rev. Thomas J. Reece was comprised of Mr. Denial Mark, Vice Chairman U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom and Senior Policy Analyst to the Commission MS Sehar Chaudhary. Provincial Minister Tahir Khalil Sandhu briefed the members of the delegations in details about the steps, policies and laws made by the Punjab government for the welfare and safeguard of minorities’ rights in the province. The delegation which also met the ex- Chief Minister of Punjab Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif had shown satisfaction on these measures, including Minority Advisory Council which was already working for the rights of the minorities in Punjab.

Similarly, in February 2018, again, the former Provincial Minister for HR&MA Khalil Tahir Sandhu had said that the Punjab government has ensured protection of minorities without any discrimination across the province and all the basic facilities have been provided to minorities.

It is of particular attention that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah-the founder of Pakistan, who was against every sort of extremism, had favoured a moderate Pakistan where other religious communities and minorities would also live without any restriction, along with the Muslims.

It may be recalled that August 11 was official declared National Minorities Day by the former government in 2009 in line with the historic speech of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. In his speech, Quaid-e-Azam said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state…We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between ones caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens of one state.”

Hence, in accordance with the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, the Constitution of 1973 protects the real rights and interest of minorities, living in Pakistan.

On the other side, India which claims an arch secular state has surprised the world because of continued attacks on other minority groups, especially Christians, Muslims and Sikhs—and events of forced conversion of Christians and Muslims into Hindus.

Unlike India, where religious minorities are being targeted by the Hindu fundamentalist outfits like the ruling party BJP, RSS, Shiv Sena etc., all the minorities such as Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists enjoy fundamental rights in Pakistan, including all other rights of citizenry in Pakistan.

It is noteworthy that the founder of the country had strongly supported the idea of peace in the world as well as with other countries. In this connection on August 15, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam stated, “Our object should be peace within, and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial friendly relations with our immediate neighbours and with the world at large.”

Regarding the status of women, Mohammad Ali Jinnah pointed out on March 25, 1940 at Islamia College for women, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”

Nonetheless, according to the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, now, Pakistani women, including those of other religious communities are not only working in various public and private sectors, but also in the armed forces of the country.

It is worth-mentioning that Pakistan which came into existence on the basis of Islamic principles to provide respect and protection to all the segments of society is giving full safety to all the minorities, as mentioned in the Constitution. Besides other minority groups, particularly Christians are not only serving in the armed forces, but are also working in other departments. Without any discrimination by the Muslims, they also run their own business and are working in private sectors.

Undoubtedly, we can conclude that while commemorating the Quaid-e-Azam Day, December 25 is also celebrated as the Charismas Day across Pakistan.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: [email protected]

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