Minorities in Pakistan

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Pakistan has various religious minorities. According to the 1941 census of India, there were 5.9 million non-Muslims in the provinces that today form Pakistan. During and after Pakistan's independence in 1947, about 5 million Hindus and Sikhs emigrated, with Punjab alone accounting for migration of 3.9 million.[1] 23% of Pakistan's population, including Bangladesh, was non-Muslim minorities in 1947. Since the Partition of India, the percentage of people belonging to religious minorities has fallen to approximately 3%.[2] After the partition, non-Muslims formed about a quarter of East Pakistan's population and 14% overall.[3]

By 1997, the percentage of Hindus remained stable at 1.85% in Pakistan,[4] while Bangladesh has witnessed a decline with Hindus migrating from it because of insecurity due to fear of persecution, conflict, communal violence (as a result of newly-created Bangladesh's assertion of its Muslim identity) and poverty.[5][6] The percentage of Hindus in Bangladesh had dropped to 9.2% by 2011, with non-Muslims accounting for 10.2% of the population[7]. In 2019, a former MLA of Pakistan's ruling party Tehreek-e-Insaaf reached out to India for political asylum stating that minorities were under threat in Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs are being killed[8].

Much of the decrease in minorities of Pakistan has occurred due to the events around the partition, the wars of 1965 and 1971.[9] Various causes like religious violence and forced conversions are attributed as responsible for decline of minorities.[10] Forced conversions and marriages represent a significant threat to underage girls in Pakistan. Around 1000 girls belonging to religious minorities were estimated to be forcibly converted every year by NGOs, though the number was thought to be much greater as many cases go unreported.[10] Amarnath Motumal of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has stated 20 to 25 Hindu girls are converted each month, though the exact number is impossible to estimate.[11]

According to Western religious freedom and human rights monitoring groups,[12] religious minorities face severe discrimination in Pakistan.[13][14][15][16]

Religious minorities[edit]


In the 1951 census, West Pakistan had 1.6% Hindu population, while East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh) had 22.05%.[5]

According to the Government of Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), in 2012, the population of registered religious minorities in Pakistan was as follows:[17]

  • Hindus: 4,000,000
  • Christians: 3,200,000
  • Ahmedis: 125,681
  • Baha'is: 33,734
  • Sikhs: 20,000
  • Parsis: 4,020
  • Buddhists: 1,492
  • Others: 66,898

According to the most recent (1998) census conducted by the Government of Pakistan, Hindus make up 1.85% of the population and Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) 1.59%, or around 3.2million people.[18] Other estimates put the numbers higher. Historically, there was also a small contingent of Jews in Pakistan who emigrated to Israel in 1948.

The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2002 estimates the Shi'a population between 10-12%,[19] among which around 900,000 are Ismailis which is a sect of Shi'i Muslims and who pay tribute to their living spiritual leader, the Aga Khan. It also lists Christians at 2.09 million; Ahmadis at 286,000, Hindus at 1.03 million; Parsis, Buddhists, and Sikhs at 20,000 each; and Baha'is at 30,000.

In a 2011 book, Ishtiaq Ahmed wrote that "Some independent studies, however, suggest that the non-Muslims population of Pakistan is nearly 10 per cent and Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis make up four million each. It is generally noted that while majorities play down minority figures, the minorities inflate them. This is especially true of the Ahmadiyya community. Official statistics return less than half a million for them while the Ahmadis claim to be around ten million."[20]

Much of the decrease in minorities of Pakistan has occurred due to the events around the partition, the wars of 1965 and 1971.[9] 2019 Religious Minorities in Pakistan report compiled by Members of the European Parliament also attributes reasons like religious violence and forced conversions as a cause of decline.[10]

Discrimination and violence[edit]

Blasphemy law[edit]

Pakistan's Blasphemy law stems from section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (6th October, 1860) XLV of 1860. It states that whoever "defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."[21] This law is phrased in vague terms (therefore violating the principle of legality), and is often used to level false accusations at people from religious minorities. Asia Bibi is a notable example of a person against whom such a violation occurred. Victims of these false accusations are often presumed guilty, and can be convicted without substantive evidence.[10][13]

Independent human rights organisation Global Human Rights Defence receives a number of cases each month from the representatives of victims of the blasphemy law.[13][12]

According to the 2012 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) annual report, "The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief."[14][22] The USCIRF has designated Pakistan as "country of particular concern" since 2002.[14][23] The report argues that "The country’s blasphemy laws, used predominantly in Punjab but also nationwide, target members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and this frequently results in imprisonment. The USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalise various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India."[24]

Farahnaz Ispahani who was the media advisor to the President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2012, has blamed the successive Pakistani governments of pursuing a "slow genocide" against minorities to shore up their political base, especially accusing Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of creating a militant group to target them, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan whose sole job was to harass Shias.[25] A BBC FAQ notes that "Beginning in 1980, a slew of clauses was added to the chapter of religious offences in the Pakistan Penal Code. These clauses can be grouped into two categories - the anti-Ahmadi laws and the blasphemy laws." The BBC notes that three is widespread popular support for these laws in Pakistan, and that two prominent critics of these laws, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, have been assassinated in 2011. Regarding the blasphemy laws, the BBC observes that: "Hundreds of Christians are among the accused - at least 12 of them were given the death sentence for blaspheming against the Prophet."[26]

Forced conversions[edit]

Religious minority communities in Pakistan are also more likely to be the victims of forced conversions and forced marriages. Women and girls (who are often underage) are subject to abduction and rape by the perpetrator or perpetrators, and are then forcibly converted to Islam and married to their abductors.[13] These Islamic extremists view forced conversions as a way to spread Islam, and the practice is often backed by powerful shrines, seminaries and clerics.[10] Cases of forced conversion collected by independent human rights organisation Global Human Rights Defence have shown that the families of the girls are often unable to effectively file a police report, because many members of the police force and local authorities are corrupted and biased in favour of the Muslim majority.[13] Moreover, the victims are often forced by their abductors to say that they converted of their own free will. The abductors will sometimes even file counter-complaints against the girls family, accusing them of harassment and of trying to convert the girl back.[10] It has been reported by NGOs that there are around 1000 cases of forced conversions every year in Pakistan, however the true number is likely to be higher due to significant levels of under-reporting.[10] Amarnath Motumal who works for Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has stated that 20 to 25 Hindu girls were kidnapped and converted every month though the exact number is impossible to estimate.[27] In 2014 alone, 265 legal cases of forced conversion were reported, mostly involving Hindu girls.[28]


The Human Rights Watch noted that the condition of religious minorities deteriorated sharply in 2012, with the government unwilling or unable to provide protection against attacks by extremists or to reign in abuses committed by its own security forces.[16][29] Mass anti-Christian violence recently occurred in the 2009 Gojra riots and in the 2013 Joseph Colony riot and the 2013 Gujranwala riot.[30] Recent anti-Shia violence includes the February 2012 Kohistan Shia Massacre, the August 2012 Mansehra Shia Massacre[31] and the particularly deadly January 2013[32] and February 2013 Quetta bombings.[33] The Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan was targeted in the similarly deadly May 2010 attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore; the New York Times noted on that occasion that "Minority sects like the Ahmadis and the Shiites and have come under increasing pressure as religious extremism has taken hold, fomented by sectarian groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, formerly state-sponsored organizations."[34]

A survey carried out by All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement Pakistan's revealed that out of 428 Hindu temples in Pakistan only around 20 survive today and they remain neglected by the Evacuee Trust Property Board which controls those while the rest had been converted for other uses since 1990.[35] In 1990s nearly 1000 Hindu temples were targeted by the frenzied Islamists for vandalism destruction according to journalist Reema Abbasi.[36] Minorities sometimes have to hide their identity, adopt Muslim names and mannerism to survive and live in fear in areas like Lahore while hundreds of temples have been vandalized or demolished.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ L.A. Kosinski, K.M. Elahi (2012). Population Redistribution and Development in South Asia. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 136.
  2. ^ Farahnaz Ispahani (2017). Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities. Oxford University Press. p. 9.
  3. ^ Kabir, Muhammad Ghulam (1980). Minority Politics in Bangladesh. Vikas. ISBN 9780706908374.
  4. ^ Census of Pakistan Archived 2010-11-13[Date mismatch] at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b D'Costa, Bina (2011), Nationbuilding, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia, Routledge, pp. 100–, ISBN 978-0-415-56566-0
  6. ^ Ganguly-Scrase, Ruchira; Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala (2016), Rethinking Displacement: Asia Pacific Perspectives, Routledge, pp. 100–, ISBN 978-0-415-56566-0
  7. ^ "Census of Bangladesh". Banbeis.gov.bd. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  8. ^ "Former lawmaker from Pakistan reaches India with family, seeks political asylum". Zee News. 2019-09-10. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  9. ^ a b https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/1377/ispanhani_vol15.pdf
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "'Religious Minorities in Pakistan' compiled by Members of European Parliament" (PDF). Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  11. ^ 25 Hindu girls abducted every month, claims HRCP official The News International
  12. ^ a b "Global Human Rights Defence". Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Global Human Rights Defence 'Human Rights Report 2019'" (PDF). Global Human Rights Defence. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  14. ^ a b c Sen, Ashish Kumar (30 April 2013). "Pakistan tops worst list for religious freedom". The Washington Times. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  15. ^ "US report speaks of 'crisis for minorities'". Dawn. AFP. 2 May 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2013. A US government-appointed panel urged Washington on Tuesday to step up pressure on Pakistan over religious freedom, alleging that risks to its minorities have reached a crisis level.
  16. ^ a b "Security forces allowing extremists to attack minorities: HRW". Dawn. 2 Feb 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2013. “The Human Rights Watch has accused the government of having failed to act against abuses committed by security and intelligence agencies which are letting extremist groups to attack religious minorities....Pakistan’s human rights crisis worsened markedly in 2012 with religious minorities bearing the brunt of killings and repression,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director of Human Rights Watch.
  17. ^ Tribune.com.pk (2012-09-02). "Over 35,000 Buddhists, Baha'is call Pakistan home". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  18. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-06-17. Retrieved 2006-06-17. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ United States Department of State
  20. ^ Ishtiaq Ahmed (2011). The Politics of Religion in South and Southeast Asia. Taylor & Francis. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-136-72703-0.
  21. ^ "Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860)". Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  22. ^ "U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report 2012 | OSCE". www.osce.org. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  23. ^ "Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern". United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  24. ^ Amina Jilani (May 10, 2013). "Of particular concern". The Express Tribune. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  25. ^ "Slow genocide of minorities in Pakistan: Farahnaz Ispahani Mint". Mint.
  26. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12621225 Q&A: Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws
  27. ^ 25 Hindu girls abducted every month, claims HRCP official The News International
  28. ^ Ilyas, Faiza (20 March 2015). "265 cases of forced conversion reported last year, moot told". Dawn.com. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  29. ^ Avenue, Human Rights Watch | 350 Fifth; York, 34th Floor | New; t, NY 10118-3299 USA | (2013-02-01). "Pakistan: Abuses, Impunity Erode Rights". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  30. ^ Sonya Rehman (April 5, 2013) Joseph Colony: Attacked and Unprotected, The Diplomat thediplomat.com/the-pulse/2013/04/05/joseph-colony-christian-community-in-lahore-attacked-and-unprotected/2/?all=true
  31. ^ Pakistan Shias killed in Gilgit sectarian attack www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-19280339
  32. ^ Formidable power of Pakistan's anti-Shia militants www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20983153
  33. ^ "Bombings kill 115 people in Pakistan". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  34. ^ Gillani, Waqar; Perlez, Jane (2010-05-28). "Attackers Hit Mosques of Islamic Sect in Pakistan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  35. ^ Gishkori, Zahid (25 March 2014). "95% of worship places put to commercial use: Survey". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  36. ^ a b The Hindus of Pakistan, Friday Times, Oct 2014.

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