In a meeting on 2 February, the standing committee on religious affairs and interfaith harmony turned down the Protection of the Rights of Religious Minorities Bill ( seeking protection for Pakistan’s minorities against religiously motivated violence), claiming that minorities enjoy complete religious freedom in the country.
The committee was chaired by Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, a member of religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F). Existing laws already provide unprecedented religious freedom to minorities, Haideri was quoted by Express Tribune as saying.
“The government is even constructing temples for minorities. They are also at liberty to establish their religious educational institutions,” Haideri said.
Senator Sirajul Haq, head of Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, termed the bill a part of the agenda of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Senator Javed Abbasi, who authored the bill insisted that minorities should have opportunities to go to their sacred religious places in a free environment and highlighted the incidents of forced conversion of minority girls in Sindh and other areas.“In many cases, young girls are forcibly converted. The state of Pakistan would not allow such acts. We do not treat minorities in Pakistan as [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is doing in India,” he said.
Senator Krishna Kumari Kolhi (Kishoo Bai), a Hindu member of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said minorities were seeking legislation on hate speech and incitement to violence and walked out of the meeting in protest. “You [should] reject it [bill] to show that you do not want to protect minorities,” Bai said. “I can’t sit on such a committee.”