Calcutta, Jan. 10: Rights activists and academics from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have voiced concern over attacks on minorities in their countries amid increasing religious and ethnic intolerance.
The expressions of alarm, at two conferences in the city this week, also dwelt on the Babri demolition and killings of minorities in India that triggered retaliatory attacks on minority Hindus across the border.
I.A. Rehman, Pakistan Human Rights Commission director, said “forced conversion of non-Muslims”, particularly women, in his country and “misuse of the blasphemy law” against minority communities had dismayed him.
“It can’t be denied that non-Muslims are treated as second-class or third-class citizens in Pakistan. The conversion is offered as an incentive to the poor to end their economic miseries,” he told an interactive session of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy.
Rehman, one of the founders of the forum, said forced conversions were a “serious matter” and some people were running an “organised business” of forcing non-Muslim girls to convert.
“There have been cases of abduction of such girls and their conversion and marriage to Muslim men. Civil society groups in Pakistan have… moved courts. But social customs make it difficult for these girls to go back to their families.”
Rehman, a Magsaysay award winner, expressed concern over what he called the “increasing Talibanisation of Pakistani society”.
He said the “tyranny of belief” had led to religious and ethnic intolerance, sectarian violence as well as attacks on freedom of expression.
“Even judges refused to give bail to the persons accused of blasphemy when Asma Jahangir moved courts,” he said, referring to the Pakistani civil rights activist.
Rehman linked the “Talibanisation” to the “rising public anger against American drone attacks” that had killed civilians, including children, and “widespread corruption and nepotism of the ruling elite”.
He said the “hope” lay with the independent media, growing public awareness, civil society interventions as well as an “assertive judiciary” in his country, but also warned of the “danger” of the “latter becoming populist” and “encroaching” on the territory of the executive.
Rehman recalled how the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque had triggered minority-bashing in the rest of the subcontinent and stressed on increased people-to-people contact across the border for creating mutual public goodwill, which, he underlined, was crucial in the war against fundamentalism.
Jehan Perara, director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, said the island nation’s “majoritarian” Colombo government had violated the rights of the minority Tamils.
“After its victory in the war against the LTTE, the government did not admit any war crimes despite the fact that the LLRC had found that terrible things happened and wanted them to be investigated,” Perara said, referring to the government-appointed panel during a conference in the city.
“The government is not interested in forging a post-war society based on multi-ethnic understanding but (has) injected a strong dose of Sinhalese nationalism in polity, equally virulent like the LTTE’s version of Tamil nationalism,” he told the conference of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM).
“It has rejected the Oslo accord between the previous government and the LTTE, calling it a sell-out to the latter. Tamils are now asking for their rights and political solutions to the questions that led to the civil war. The government has won the war but not the hearts of Tamils,” Perara said.
Professor Anisuzzaman, chairman of the Bangla Academy in Dhaka, and Rehman, who both participated in the IASFM meet, recalled instances after Partition when Hindus and Muslims had saved each other from murderous mobs.
“But weaknesses of democracy in Pakistan and Bangladesh and tension among the neighbouring countries have facilitated the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism of different hues in the subcontinent,” he said. “This has weakened the civil society resistance against minority-bashing.”