ASIA/PAKISTAN-8 million religious minorities: a special Commission is urgently needed

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - The government has released new figures which are not official (the last official census dates back to 1998) regarding the composition of Pakistani society: according to recent sociological research, it is estimated that religious minorities in Pakistan today amount to about 8 million people out of a population of 172 million inhabitants. The largest group among the minorities is Hindus, with about 4.2 million people, while 3.9 million are Christians, Sikhs are about 15 thousand. Other much smaller religious communities are Parsi, Baha'i and Ahmadi, with about 5,000 members. In a recent Memorandum - sent to the Federal Ministry for Human Rights and sent to Fides - the Commission "Justice and Peace" of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan states that "the issue of minorities is crucial in the nation". Therefore "changes in the Constitution and laws and policies to ensure the restoration of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights to minorities" is urgent. The Commission seeks to establish a special "Commission for Human Rights and Minorities", with the powers of a Court, and to invite the UN Special Observer for religious Tolerance in the country. The Justice and Peace Commission also notes the presence of discrimination and prejudice against minorities in the education system. "Pakistan - it says - is a democratic country, but its legal structure resembles a theocratic state" in which "the Constitution does not explicitly recognize ethnic and religious minorities, although it refers to minorities in several steps". The Bishops’ Commission also denounces the widespread phenomenon of "land grabbing" (subtraction of land) concerning the properties of religious minorities (land, places of worship, buildings) as what happened recently to the Caritas complex in Lahore (see Fides 11/01/2012). (PA) (Agenzia Fides 16/01/2012)