Islamabad: Serious differences emerged over the report of the Parliamentary sub-committee on “The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities Bill, 2021)” between the Ministry of Religious Affairs and representatives from minorities over the role of the Ministry of Human Rights and the age limit for conversion.
The meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to protect Minorities from Forced Conversions was held under the chairmanship of Senator Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar. During the meeting, recommendations of the sub-committee to protect minorities from forced conversions and marriages were unanimously approved by the committee. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammed Khan on this occasion expressed displeasure over the absence of members of religious parties. “On the issue of minorities, our religious parties always raise objections, and now as we want consensus they’re showing no interest on this issue,” he remarked.
Dr Ramesh Kumar said that instead of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the draft of the bill should be sent to the Ministry of Human Rights for further deliberation. He said the British Parliament seeks a report from him over the issue of forced conversions. He added that since minorities is a human rights issue, the Ministry of Human Rights should review the bill before it is presented before the parliament for approval.
Ali Muhammed said that since it is Pakistan’s internal matter, Britain has nothing to do with it, nor should they interfere in it. He said since it is a religious issue, it falls under the domain of Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Member National Assembly Lal Chand said that minorities do not trust the Ministry of Religious Affairs as it never supported any bill by minorities or the formation of Minorities Commission. Replying to his charges, Federal Minister for Religious and Interfaith Harmony Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said Religious Ministry never rejected any minorities bill and in fact, the parliamentary committees in the past never passed these bills.
Secretary of Ministry of Human Rights said that the Prime Minister’s office, two months back, directed him to review the minorities bill and give suggestions on it. On this, both Ali Muhammed Khan and Nor-ul-Haq Qadri said that the Ministry of Human Rights can give their suggestions, but the matter will remain under the domain of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Ramesh Kumar and other minority members said the bill should be sent to both the ministries for further review to avert any deadlock.
Minorities’ members also demanded that the age limit of 18 years, or issuance of the National Identity Card, should be made compulsory for conversion. However, Noor ul Haq Qadri said the age limit for conversion could not be fixed as in Islam or in any other religion, no age limit has been fixed for the conversion of religion. However, he said that it is the foremost responsibility of federal and provincial governments to ensure that people should follow the religion of their choice. The chairman also endorsed the views of the minister and he asked the Ministry of Human Rights to come up with their suggestion in the next meeting.
“Necessary that this issue is discussed on a national forum”
Following the meeting, Dr Ramesh Kumar spoke to The Correspondent.
What is your reservation regarding the Forced Conversion Bill?
“First of all, I think the joint parliamentary committee have done their work and the recommendations regarding the Forced Conversion Bill have been approved at the joint parliamentary committee. All the minority community members, except Sunil Aruth, recommended that this bill should be processed by the Human Rights Ministry. And finalise all the process within two months. But they recommended that the bill is to be forwarded to the concerned department. We have some reservations with the Religious Ministry. That if it goes in the Religious Ministry, again it will be compromised. So if the Human Rights Ministry will tackle this issue, then this issue will be resolved within two months, as the time given by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. I’m thankful to all the members from the minority and majority committee who support and finally passed the bill.”
But the Committee still considers it a religious issue, and not a human rights issue, especially regarding the age factor.
“Actually we have tried to make NIC necessary. And we have Malaysia, Indonesia, UAE, and other Muslim countries [es examples]. After seeing all this, we have made the recommendation.”
Do you think it’s a provincial issue or federal issue?
“Actually, after the 18th Amendment, the minority has been devolved in the provinces. But this is a national issue. I think it is necessary this issue is discussed on a national forum. With all the community members from different provinces and different political parties, being members of this committee, now it is not a problem. Even the federal government with Article 144 legislates any bill regarding any community, any state.”