Declaration of religion would not harm minorities, says Religious Ministry

In this Oct. 11, 2011, file photo, supporters of Pakistani religious groups gather outside the Islamabad High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)
Updated 12 March 2018
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Declaration of religion would not harm minorities, says Religious Ministry

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony said on Sunday that requirement of declaration of religion by all citizens on official documents was only meant for official work and would not harm religious minorities.
“The declaration of religion by all citizens is not for public consumption, but only for official work to facilitate the religious minorities in education, employment and all other sectors,” Sajjad Qamar, a spokesperson for the ministry, told Arab News.
He said the Islamabad High Court’s recent verdict on the matter would ensure the rights of religious minorities, adding: “There is zero chance of their religious persecution.”
“The government and all state institutions are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all citizens, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed,” he said.
Qamar said that religious minorities played a vital role in the creation of Pakistan, and they were still playing an active and positive role in all segments of the society.
“The declaration of religion by all citizens will actually help religious minorities secure their five percent quota in all government jobs,” he emphasized.
He added that people of all religions in Pakistan respected each other and the country’s laws guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. “The state does not discriminate against people on the basis of their religion,” he maintained. “Religious minorities are vital part of our society and they will continue enjoying equal rights.”
The Islamabad High Court ruled on Friday that people were required to declare their religion on all official documents and take an oath upon joining the civil service, armed forces or judiciary.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who penned the verdict, emphasized that the constitution granted “complete religious freedom, including all the basic rights to the minorities (Non-Muslims).”
The judge also clarified that the state was bound to “protect their (religious minorities) life, wealth, property, dignity and protect their assets as citizens of Pakistan.”
However, members of religious minorities have expressed their concerns over the ruling and urged the government to ensure protection of their life and property.
“There is no need of religious identity of any citizen as the state guarantees equal rights to all, irrespective of their faith,” Anjum Paul, a Christian social activist and professor at a public university, told Arab News.
He said the court ruling may create complexities for the minorities and it was the responsibility of the government to file a review petition against the verdict in the Supreme Court.
“The world is a global village and no other country in the world requires its citizens to declare their religious identity on all official documents,” he said. “This needs to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.”
Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, told Arab News that Pakistan’s constitution already guaranteed equal rights to all its citizens and the recent court verdict would further augment it.
“The court has just interpreted the constitution and there is nothing in it to be worried about,” he said. “Hindus and all other minorities have full freedom in Pakistan to practice their religion and celebrate their religious festivals.”
Tahir Malik, political analyst, told Arab News that the declaration of religion on official documents by all citizens was not going to affect religious minorities, except the Ahmadi community, which is already vulnerable to violence by religious extremists.
“If the declaration of religion is kept limited to the official work only, then there is no issue,” he said. “However, the state and its business should ideally be religion-neutral to avoid any misconception and exploitation of any sect and faith.”


Indian minister steps up calls to deport illegal immigrants

Updated 35 min 44 sec ago
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Indian minister steps up calls to deport illegal immigrants

  • National Register of Citizenship will be extended across country, says Amit Shah

NEW DELHI: New Delhi will deport all illegal immigrants found in the country, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament on Wednesday.

The warning signaled a heightening of a campaign that some critics say is “aimed at alienating the Muslim minority.”

The minister’s statement comes as the state of Assam is set to release its final list of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), an exercise to identify illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The Supreme Court demanded that the NRC should submit its report at the end of this month.

Of the state’s 31 million residents, almost 4 million were missing from the NRC’s report last year. Most were poor Muslims. Illegal immigration was a core election issue for the ruling right-wing party Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)

“The government will identify illegal immigrants living in every inch of the country’s soil and will deport them in line with international law,” said Shah.

He added that the NRC would be extended across the country. 

Shah, a Hindu hard-liner and the second most powerful figure in the Narendra Modi government, has been belligerently opposed to illegal Muslim immigrants, who he recently described as “termites.”

Critics have questioned the need for the NRC throughout the country.

The BJP does not want to clarify what it truly means because that is part of their politics, but the opposition leaders are also silent.

Hilal Ahmad, Academic

“This is a witch hunt of the minority under the false concern of illegal immigration,” said SubHajjit Naskar of Jadavpur University.

“The way the NRC is being implemented in Assam is damaging for our secular and democratic values.”

Naskar told Arab News: “The register is part of the broader majoritarian agenda to make India a Hindu state where minority Muslims will be treated as second class citizens.” 

Dr. Hilal Ahmad, associate professor at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, said: “The substantial part of Shah’s statement is that NRC is not entirely about Muslims. It also claims that it’s an institutional process with legal support and it’s not at all concerned with Muslims.”

Ahmad added: “The BJP does not want to clarify what it truly means because that is part of their politics, but the opposition leaders are also silent. They are also trying to consolidate the impression that the NRC is anti-Muslim.”

Suhas Chakma, director of the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, said that “Shah’s plans are not practical.”

“How you are going to identify illegal migrants? Have you spoken to Bangladesh about the deportation? What the BJP government is trying to do is not implementable. It is a recipe for chaos,” said Chakma.

Sabber Ahmad, from the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, a New Delhi-based group serving the persecuted minority community from Myanmar, said the “Indian government’s stance on illegal migrants creates panic among the small Rohingya community living here.”

“I fled Myanmar in 2012 and India gave me a new lease of life. New Dehli should show some humanity in dealing with people like us,” Ahmad told Arab News.

“India has a history of sheltering persecuted minorities from around the world. They must continue this proud tradition,” Ahmad added.