Soaring costs found as impediment to justice for Pakistan's minorities

(Photo: REUTERS / Athar Hussain)Employees of Pakistan's biggest television station Geo TV attend a protest against the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority after the station's license was suspended, in Karachi May 22, 2014. Pakistan's Geo TV said it was ramping up security on Tuesday after it became the object of dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress.

Religious minorities in Pakistan say costs and lack of helpful resources are the most prominent barriers in accessing justice in their country, a survey by a legal group shows.

"Religious minorities were less confident about attaining a fair trial compared to their Muslim counterparts," the Legal Needs Assessment Survey launched on Oct. 20 in Islamabad found, UCA News reported.

"They foremost identified themselves as not affluent and powerful, and therefore not possessing the law to seek protection within its ambit, nor the law taking ownership of them," the survey found.

The survey found that consequently, they seldom approach Pakistan's judicial system to seek justice.

"They repeatedly referenced poverty, and not religious discrimination, as their biggest problem. They identified their minority status as an exacerbator of their poverty. Instead, a dearth of opportunities, corruption and administrative incompetence were the primary suspects."

The Karachi-based Legal Aid Society (LAS) concluded a six-month survey in May after interviewing 324 people including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs from eight districts of Sindh province.

Muslims, of whom the overwhelming majority are Sunni, make up some 96 percent of Pakistan's estimated population of 238 million people. Most of the remaining 3.5 percent of the people in Pakistan are Hindus and Christians.

"These problems are a direct result of poverty and dire living conditions," the survey found.

It said that structural discrimination, including absence of employment opportunities and lack of provision of legal identities, creates and traps these communities in a problem loop.

This limits avenues for awareness and information and thus alters legal behaviors.


"The majority of our respondents were unaware that their problems are legal issues with a predetermined solution," the survey says.

"Majority versus minority rhetoric has made our respondents believe that this country is for Muslims and so is the law."

It says that the discrimination faced by these marginalized communities is not only external but is also fueled by casteism and socioeconomic disparity within these communities.

LAS research manager Dawer Hameed, said this legal need assessment is the first of its kind in Pakistan.

"Religious minorities in Pakistan face a plethora of social and legal issues,"

According to LAS research manager Dawer Hameed, this legal need assessment is the first of its kind in Pakistan.

"Religious minorities in Pakistan face a plethora of social and legal issues," he told UCA News.

"The launch event aims to bring together relevant actors and stakeholders in the judicial system to discuss the barriers faced by minority communities in accessing justice and ideation of possible policy reforms to mitigate these barriers."

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