Minorities and LG polls in KP

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Photo By: UPI Next / Matiullah

 

PESHAWAR:  Minorities in Pakistan face numerous challenges. Since terrorism has turned its ugly face on this country, religious intolerance has increased manifold. But that was just an add-on to the government’s irresponsible behaviour towards its duty to provide protection to the religious minorities. The most helpless religious minority are the Christians, who had to live with a defined role of janitors for the majority of the Muslims. No amount of education had helped the Christians change this distorted perception.

Over the years, the religious minorities have stagnated and found themselves on the margins of economic, political and social developments. These sentiments have also been observed in the candidates contesting Local Body Polls in KP.

Humaira Yaqoob is elected unopposed as district councillor from Peshawar on the Awami National Party’s ticket.

Talking to the News Lens Humaira Yaqoob said that after completing MBA, she was hard put to find any job. It was as if all doors were closed on her.

“Most of the time it was my religion that became the main obstacle. A majority of Pakistanis still consider Christians fit only to perform menial jobs. It was in those tough times that I decided to change this mindset. Politics is the only forum to do this painstaking task. It provides one direct contact with the people,” said Humaira.

“The tragedy is that the government also consider us best to perform only sweepers’ job. The five percent quota reserved for minorities for the government jobs is a charade. The Christians are recruited only to clean the dirt of others. We demand equal representation from the government,” Humaira lamented.

According to Humaira, minorities are fighting for their survival in Pakistan.  No one gives them their rights. Therefore, they have to fight this battle themselves. Her resolve to join politics strengthened when her brother, Vactor Jan, an ANP activist, was killed in a bomb blast at All Saints Church in Peshawar that killed 80 people, in September 2013.

The CEO of the Movement for Social Action Human Rights and Leadership, Zafar Iqbal Khattak, told News Lens Pakistan that relative to the size of their population, the legislative representation of the minorities has always been quite poor at every level.

“It is the responsibility of the government to help increase the representation ratio of the minorities in every sphere of life,” said Khattak.

Shivram Sharma, contesting elections for the district councillor seat from Peshawar wants to improve the condition of temples and build cremation places in KP, if elected to power. “Our places of worship are in a dilapidated condition; some are destroyed by the terrorists while the rest have been ruined because of government’s negligence. Similarly, there are very few places in KP to cremate our dead ones. We have none in Peshawar and I want to build at least one least one cremation ground there,” said Sharma.

Just like the majority of the Pakistanis, the Hindu community also lacks behind in education and Sharma wants to see this situation changed. If elected he will make his community aware of the importance of education. “Unless we are educated we cannot even demand our legitimate rights from the government,” said Sharma.

Yousaf Masih, contesting from Kohati Gate Peshawar, told News Lens that the last local government in 2005 did nothing for the minorities. “But now that a democratically elected government is holding elections in KP, hopes are high that things will change for the better,” said Masih

It is an irony that all the local body elections held so far in the country were conducted by the military governments while every democratic government has refrained from devolving political, administrative and financial powers to elected representatives at district and lower levels as stipulated under Article 140-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Srechand Singh, contesting elections on Jamaat-e-Islami reserved seat for minorities, told News Lens that Pakistan has been unable to provide for the basic human needs of the minorities such as security, employment opportunities and a respectful life. He said that for the Sikh community getting the National Identity Card or domicile has been a chore.

The Special Assistant to the chief minister KP on Minorities Affairs, Suran Singh, told News Lens that governments in Pakistan hardly release development funds allocated for the minorities, while the funds are always a miniscule part of the entire budget. However, the KP government, he said, would gave financial autonomy to the local government, and it has allocated 30 percent of the budget for the local government. “Now people will not have to approach the MPAs or the MNAs for their petty problems. The KP government will drive power down and devolve responsibilities to those who provide public services,” said Suran.

In KP, election at the village and neighbourhood council level would be held on non-party basis and on party basis at the district and tehsil (town) level.

According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act 2013, minorities will be contesting polls on 3,349 seats, however elections will be held only on 349 seats.

Talking to News Lens, Regional Election Commissioner Peshawar Pir Maqbool Shah says, that one of the reasons behind the low representation of the minorities in the upcoming local bodies elections is their zero participation in elections at the rural and neighbourhood level.  Shah added that most of the contestants hail from the urban areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) like Peshawar. Many people belonging to religious minorities have shifted to urban areas to earn better living.

According to a political analyst, Dr Farooq Hassnat the zero participation could be attributed to three factors: One, not every union or ward necessarily has minorities. Two, since the education level of minorities in rural areas is usually low, people over there might not have the awareness or even courage to take part in elections. Three, lack of mobilization effort by the rights groups or minorities’ electioneering machinery could have resulted in procrastination.

But there were some administrative hurdles as well, said Maqbool Shah, that had contributed in keeping low the representation of the minorities. He says that most of the candidates did not even know about the deadline for the submission of nomination papers. The government and the Election Commission in KP were responsible to inform the potential candidates about the tentative election schedule.

Another plausible reason for the low representation of the minorities in the local body polls according to Khattak could be security threats. The non-Muslims fear that if they contest elections they might be killed. When, they say, their places of worship are not safe from extremists, how can they consider themselves safe?

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