LAHORE - On the outskirts of the city this area gives the typical look of a ghetto. Dust can be seen rising from the streets, sewers spewing out smelly water and the water from taps tastes and smells bad.
This is Youhana Abad where majority of people living are Christians. This area made headlines when suicide attacks on two churches on March 15, 2015 killed 17 people. In the aftermath the rioting Christians burnt a Muslim man. 40 of these Christians are languishing in jails. The fault lies in the leadership as none of the representatives in the parliament dared to enter the area since they had not been voted by the community for election but selected by the political parties.
“There are about 35,000 Christian voters in our constituency PA 169 while there are about 80,000 Christian voters in our NA 134 constituency. Many Christian candidates applied for ticket from the mainstream parties but none managed to get,” Kashif Nawab, Director of Social Action Transformation of Humanity, said while talking to The Nation. He added that had any mainstream party given a ticket to any minority candidate, he/she may have won easily with party and community support.
He said there was no basic health unit nor any public sector school in the area. “It is the most neglected area of Lahore,” Kashif was of the view.
Dr Ramesh Kumar served as MNA for five years after his selection by the PML-N. Some months ago he joined PTI. He said he was in favour of election and not selection. “My community wants to be given double vote. Besides participating in election of the candidates from their areas they also want to elect their own representatives.
“Four times I moved the bill for giving minorities their right to elect their representatives. It was referred to the committee and then the matter was rejected or adjourned. Imran Khan has promised me that this time the bill will be taken up seriously. He has also promised that the next chairman of Evacuee Property Trust would be a Hindu. The number of minorities’ seats should also be increased as per the new census results. New constituencies for minorities can easily be made,” Dr Ramesh said.
Bishop (Emeritus) of Lahore Dr Alexander John Malik was also of the same view. “The only solution to end minorities’ problems is to ensure that they are given double vote facility. That is they also should be able to elect their own representatives. A system can easily be evolved to ensure that the communities get true representation. Those nominated by parties are political workers and look after the interest of their parties and not the communities they are supposed to represent,” Bishop was of the view. Riaz Anjum, Chairman of Pakistan Christian Movement, said it was great injustice that minorities’ seats have not been increased since 1981. “We have been campaigning for two years to increase the seats. In 2002 the seats of assemblies were increased through presidential ordinance and it was given legal cover later through 18th amendment. If accordingly minorities’ seats had been increased we would now have 17 NA seats, 16 PA seats and 18 SA seats.
“We boycotted the election in protest as seats were not increased and the process of minorities’ seats election was not changed. Other Christian parties that boycotted the election included All Pakistan Christian League led by Prof Salamat Akhtar, Christian Democratic Party led by Benhur Yousaf, Tahafuz Aqliat Movement led by Riaz Mattu and Pakistan United Christian Movement led by Albert David,” Riaz said.
Activist and President of Hindu Sudhar Sabah, Amarnath Randhawa, said the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees right to vote to all citizens but it was a pity that minorities were not given the right to elect their representatives. “I wonder why the mainstream parties do not field candidates of minorities in general election on general seats and do not allow minorities to elect their own representatives. Can any party show that the people they nominate were selected after intra party elections? How many people from minorities are members of their party?
“We have large number of Hindus living in different districts of Punjab. In Sialkot area there are about 15,000 Hindus while in Sheikhupura and nearby areas there are around 20,000 Hindus. There are number of Hindus living in northern Punjab in districts of Rawalpindi, Attock, Jehlum and Gujrat. They too should be properly represented in assemblies,” Amarnath maintained.
Dean of Lahore Cathedral the very Reverend Shahid Mehraj said the minorities are struggling for their rights and will continue to do so until they get their right to vote for their representatives. “We must remember the vision of Pakistan. He had declared equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan. The only solution is that minorities should be given right to use double vote,” he said.
The election fever might have subsided but for minorities it is and will remain an unresolved issue unless they are given right to elect their own representatives.