Recognition at Last: Right to domicile gives home to minorities in FATA

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Peshawar:  For Behzad, a student belonging to a religious minority group in Jamrud in Khyber Agency, the government edict that members of religious minorities living in the Pakistan tribal areas can register as locals has bolstered his prospects for better education.

“Whenever we visit educational institutions to get admission or apply for scholarship, the officials ask for a domicile certificate which we don’t have,” Behzad, a student at a higher secondary school in Jamrud, told News Lens. “Now that the government has given us the right to make local domicile, we can avail opportunities like applying for jobs and scholarships on the education and employment quota reserved for the people of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).”

The proclamation that members of religious minorities in FATA can have a “domicile certificate” as proof of local origins was issued by Governor Khyber Pakhtunjhwa Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan Abbassi – the constitutional representative of FATA for the federal government – on April 10.

“Now a minority member can make a category B domicile from  offices of political agents,” Ahmad Khan, Deputy Secretary Law and Order division at the FATA Secretariat, told News Lens. “The political agents of seven tribal agencies and deputy commissioners of six Frontier Regions have been notified about the governor’s order to issue domicile certificates to members of minorities living in FATA.”

Under the new provision, the minorities in FATA not only get to claim local origins but they will be also exempted from the customary law Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) – dubbed  “Black Law” by the tribesmen due to its discriminatory nature. The law that has its origins in the British colonial rule does not give tribesmen fundamental human rights like access to justice through court, the right to appeal and the right to legal representation, freedom of speech and political association among others.

“The minorities can claim a category B domicile that is exempt from some of the severe provisions of FCR,” said Khan. He says FCR clauses like collective responsibility under which an entire tribe is held responsible for the crime of a single tribesmen will not  apply to minority groups in FATA.

Nelson Wazir, a social activist from Landi Kotal in Khyber Agency who recipient of Sitara-e-Imtiaz due to his services for minority rights in tribal areas, told News Lens the government decision was the fruit of a long struggle for minority members in FATA to be declared as equal natives of their respective agencies.

“In 1992, when I passed class 10th , I approached the magistrate office to make a domicile certificate but they refused saying i could only have a resident certificate,” says Wazir. “Since that day, I and other  minority members have been struggling to highlight the issue at different forums. It is because of our struggles that the authorities allowed us the right to bear a local domicile.”

Wazir said that minorities including Christians, Sikhs and Hindus had lived in tribal areas since a century but were not allowed to purchase properties inside tribal areas. With the domicile certificate, minorities will be able to buy land and access others benefits that other tribesmen can avail.

Before the government decision, a “resident” certificate was issued instead of a domicile to non-Muslims living in tribal area but according to Farhad Afridi, a lawyer, a resident certificate is no alternative for a domicile.

“It was a discriminatory approach towards minorities,” said  Afridi. “A domicile is a basic document that entitles a tribal person to purchase land and property, avail privileges under the customary law and participate in mainstream tribal affairs under the jirga system.”

Afridi said the minorities had badly suffered due to the ongoing conflict and militancy in the tribal areas.

“The extremist groups forcefully imposed tax ( Jazia)  on them, some were killed and many fled the tribal areas,” Afridi told News Lens.” It is not the matter of just awarding domicile right to minorities but the overall situation of human rights in tribal belt has suffered a setback. It is a matter of grave concern that according to Article One of the Constitution of Pakistan, FATA has been declared an integral part of Pakistan but it remains under a parallel black law FCR.”

The Article One of the Constitution says ” The territories of Pakistan shall comprise (a)  the Provinces of Balochistan, the Khyber Pakhtunkwa, the Punjab and Sindh; (b)  the Islamabad Capital Territory, hereinafter referred to as the Federal Capital; (c)  the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]; and (d)  such States and territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by  accession or otherwise.”

The decision was welcomed by human rights activists, minority groups and the lawyers’ fraternity of the province as well as FATA.

Afridi, who is a lawyer at the  Peshawar High Court and a member of FATA Lawyers’ Forum appreciated the government decision, but said  it was not an ground-shaking achievement of the government.

He said: “According to the act of citizenship, getting domicile is the basic human right of every citizen who intend to live permanently in any area of Pakistan. Now as the state give the right to domicile to non Muslims, it only means that this basic right  was usurped and violated  for the last more than 60 years.”

However, for Bahzad, the student in Jamrud, the government decision opens new opportunities. “I hope that by getting the right to domicile, i will be entitled to apply for admission in education institutions across the country,” he says.

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