As Hindus celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, throughout the world, the religious minority in Pakistan still struggles to make its presence felt.
Like every year, the Hindu temple in Lalkurti is at its full grandeur. Decorated with fairy lights and earthen lamps, the temple keeps its tradition alive.
Marking the occasion, leaders of various religious faiths stressed interfaith harmony at the temple in Rawalpindi on Friday night.
The event, arranged by All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat and Right to Expression, Assembly, Association and Thought (REAT) Network, aimed at promoting interfaith harmony among different religions and highlighting problems of non-Muslims in Pakistan.
The minority MNA from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Isphanyar M Bhandara, speaking to The Express Tribune, said equality was necessary to keep the people in Pakistan united. “We are humans before anything else,” he stressed.
Taking his talk further, the MNA said he was working on introducing a bill in the lower house of Parliament which suggests the government set up a separate system to collect funds for religious minorities as there are Zakat and Ashar funds for Muslims.
Addressing the gathering at the temple, South Asia Partnership Programme Manager Shabnum Rasheed stressed the need to reform Pakistan’s educational courses. She insisted that children were taught about only one religion which was unfair and did not promote religious tolerance.
“All the children, whether Muslims, Christians or from any other faith, are taught that Islam is the best religion,” she explained adding that non-Muslim students should also be given the right to study their respective religions.
In regards to minority rights, Rasheed stated that certain laws including the Hudood Ordinance, family laws and blasphemy law needed amendments.
“Hindu women are being raped but the culprits are set free on the pretext of a certificate saying the victim is married to a Muslim,” she said, explaining that “It is a matter of concern that non-Muslims cannot be a witness in such a case.”
She also emphasised the need for reforms in the electoral system so minorities get adequate representation in legislature. Rasheed regretted that there is not a single non-Muslim member in the electoral reforms committee on minorities and demanded that the committee be more inclusive with at least one non-Muslim and a woman made a part of it.
Though the government had formulated a national commission on minorities, she insisted that it should also be extended to the provincial level.
Speaking on minority rights, advocate Kalpana Devi from Larkana, Sindh told The Express Tribune that discussions often revolve around the Hindu Marriage Act but her struggle continues for Hindu personal law.
“We should now go a step ahead and demand the government to give Hindus rights like widow remarriage and share in hereditary,” she said.
Devi questioned why the Hindu Marriage Act was still pending. “When God and the prophets did not discriminate among different religions, what gives others the right to discriminate,” she asked, adding that if the government was charging Hindus equal taxes they should be given equal rights.
“We need Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan and should remember his words when on August 13, 1947 he said that non-Muslims were free to go to their worship places”.
“Diwali sends the message of respect and love for one another,” said Pundit Channa Lal, while addressing the gathering. He stated that it was unfortunate that a majority of the people did not accept Hindus. “We want to make it clear that we would not leave this soil,” he maintained adding that people belonging to different faiths had come together to celebrate Diwali which will help spread love among diverse religious identities.