Asia Bibi is free, but minorities live in fear in Pakistan

File photo. Photograph:( PTI )

WION Web Team Islamabad, Pakistan Oct 31, 2018, 12.38 PM (IST)

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother facing execution for blasphemy, in a landmark case which has incited deadly violence and reached as far as the Vatican.

Asia might have been acquitted of blasphemy charges, but minorities still continue to be tortured in Pakistan and forced conversions are order of the day.

Pakistan's minority Shi'ite Muslims regularly come under attack by Islamist groups. Members of its small Hindu and Christian communities have also sometimes been accused of blasphemy.

Insulting the Prophet Mohammad is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and blasphemy accusations stir such emotions that they are almost impossible to defend against. Dozens have been killed following blasphemy claims, sometimes by mobs of men.

The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HRCP) describes Pakistani Hindus as feeling "uneasy" in their country, saying in its annual report that "the migration of Hindus to India may soon turn into an exodus if the discrimination against them continues".

It is a bleak situation that is far more representative of the stigmatisation Hindus face across Pakistan, where they are often assumed to be "pro-India because of their religion", according to Marvi Sirmed, of HRCP.

According to the HRCP, which cites religious leaders, the biggest problem facing the community is the "forced conversion" to Islam of women and girls, many of whom are abducted before being married off to Muslim men.

Sikhs too have faced persecution in Pakistan. Recently, a Sikh teenage girl was raped inside an ambulance in Pakistan's Punjab province. There's no Jaziya - or religious tax - yet but Sikhs are told they must convert to Islam if they don't feel safe in the country.

The modus operandi is simple - first threaten minorities then offer protection under the umbrella of Islam.

Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged a secular country, where people were free to practice their religion, a country where the government didn't discriminate between temples and mosques. But 71 years after Independence, Pakistan has turned to dehumanising minorities.

The country is considered as the birthplace of the Sikh religion but today, Sikhs are being forced to convert to Islam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Last year, close to 60 Sikhs living in this administrative unit have requested protection.

The figures are alarming. In 1947, there were 23 per cent non-Muslims in Pakistan; now the figure stands at a dismal three to four per cent.

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In 1947, there were 23 per cent non-Muslims in Pakistan; now the figure stands at a dismal three to four per cent.