SAHIWAL, Pakistan: The speakers at a seminar on “education policy reforms and changing political landscape” organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) underlined the importance of education policy review and strengthening of affirmative measures regarding rights to religious freedom, non-discrimination and equality guaranteed in Articles 20, 22(1) and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice Peter Jacob observed that the introduction of subject of “religious education” enabling minority students to study religions as a substitute to Islamiat was appreciable.
However, an evaluation needs to be carried out to assess whether teaching religions should be compulsory. Secondly, an informed discussion is required on the question of how has the compulsory teaching of religion impacted the society in past 50 years, since this policy measure was taken.
Peter Jacob further said that textbooks have been used to distort the vision of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. A fabricated history suggested that Pakistan was created only for the majority religion.
The CSJ Executive Director emphasized the need to make a correct reference to operative para 2 of Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940, which speaks of a mandatory and effective implementation of five different areas of rights of (religious) minorities.
Jalil Butt, a professor of sociology stated, “A regular population census is a common practice, throughout the world which is enabled by a thorough enumeration, analysis and consistent awareness campaigns. The transparency and credibility of a census data is incumbent on a participatory data collection and compilation. It is only then that the data extracted is useful to construct better policies and allocations for education, health etc.”
Ashiknaz Khokhar, human rights activist, demanded that educational reforms must not be in conflict with the constitutional protections of religious freedom and non-discrimination, and the government needs to introduce educational reforms to address the disparity of opportunities and treatment contributing to making a positive behavior change in students, and the society at large.
Fr Zahid Augustine, religious leader, emphasised on the fact that right to free and compulsory education under Article 25 (A) of the Constitution must be implemented without any delay and discrimination. A pervasive religious discrimination has marginalised their social, political, economic and demographic existence. The state must not ignore the matter any further and put an end to educational and institutional discriminations.
Oneel Micheal remarked that it is a matter of grave concern that the population of religious minorities decreased from 3.73% to 3.52% (0.21% decrease) in 19 years between 1998 and 2017. The recent census data showed that population of Christians grew by 25.71% (0.54 million), whereas the Hindu population grew by 70.62% (1.49 million), and “Scheduled Castes” increased exponentially by 157.58% (0.52 million) between 1998 and 2017. In contrast, the population of Ahmadis grew by 35.71% (0.09 million), and the people categorized as “other religions” declined by 60% (0.06 million). He demanded that the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) should consider holding a population census in 2023 with better preparation.
Shamsa Anwar advocate urged the PBS to involve civil society groups and media in observing the census activity in order to build confidence of the people at large.
The seminar was attended by teachers, political workers, religious leaders, social activists, and students to understand the jarring issues in education and its impact on the society.