As minorities living in Pakistan we appreciate the Punjab cabinet that approved 2% higher education quota for religious minorities in the Government higher education institutes of the province, a move lauded by many. Among religious minorities, Christians are the largest minority of the Punjab province. Data from various cities in the Punjab shows an overwhelming number of those sanitary workers, janitor cleaning sewerage come from the Christian and Hindu communities. The Sikh community also does not have a sizable number of students in universities. Cities in the southern Punjab have a good number of the Hindu community and many of them come from the ‘Scheduled Caste’ who are living in deplorable conditions. Thus this quota will help to bring them at par with the rest of the society.
The Punjab is the largest province of the Pakistan regarding population and territory and so as politically in the national political system, the mile stone demand will also inspire other governments and provinces to replicate accordingly in their o own provinces. The major obstacle will be created by the institutions of higher education and professional bodies of the different profession to implement this executive order but the introduction of the reservation of the education quota for the minorities can be more effective mechanism with proper teeth. Moreover, the government has done part, now; the ball is in court of the minorities themselves to exploit the benefits of this positive provision. No doubt, the state / government has main obligation towards the education development of the minorities but the role of the religious political and religious leadership especially of the Christian education institution is vital. They should try to hold education emergency in their communities and their very own institutions should serve the actual beneficiaries to mitigate their dark fate converting in to bright future.
The civil society groups like NLD for minorities and others should do lobbying advocacy with hard core stakeholders to convince them to consider education as an emergency than the business enterprise. Some people think that the education is the responsibility of the state/government but unlike the church institutions are gathering financial contribution not only from local people but also from international missions and organizations for the education development of these minorities. So, this is a high time of reflection and action to return to the uneducated Christian across the country. This welcoming decision deserve special attention both of the state / governments and religious / political leadership to do effective on urgent and immediate to take the real benefit of the well admired decision. Moreover, the other provinces and federal government should apply this decision according far better if in form of act of parliament.
Before the end of the last government, the then Punjab higher education Minister Syed Raza Ali Gillani had constituted a committee to deliberate the introduction of a minority quota for higher education but representatives from public universities presented a huge resistance to providing a special quota for religious minorities. However, we thank Prime Minister Imran Khan for the hugely welcome news. The previous government ignored long-held demands of minorities. We demand other provincial governments to reserve 2% quota for minority students as well, said Ms. Shireen Aslam, Member District Human Rights Committee, Attock.
Dr. Sabir Michael, Assistant Prof Department of Social Work, University of Karachi, said that in the time of Pandemic of Covid-19 in Pakistan, some positive developments have been witnessed recently by the government of Punjab in the context of the religious minorities. One of them is the reservation of 2% education for the religious minorities in the province of Punjab in all the institutions of the higher education including higher education institutions of professional education such as medical, Law, and engineering etc. it was long awaiting demand of the religious minorities addressed by the government of Punjab to meet the gap of supply and demand to fill the job vacancies to be filled against the 5% jobs reserved for the religious minorities, that were often leftover and carried forwarded.
Although the nationalization of the Christian educational institutions had hit severely to the socio-economic decay of the minorities but even then Christian educational institutions have been serving the middle and upper class sections of the society rather than actual beneficiaries. In this gloomy picture of educational decay of the minorities, the rights activists has been lobbying for affirmative actions in the perspective of the articles 36/37 of the constitution of Pakistan 1973 in which the governments both federal and provincial are obliged to take special measures for the social-economic empowerment of the religious minorities aimed to bring them equal to the other comparatively developed sections of the society. Since the religious minorities are under-developed in Pakistan, it is pertinent to take the affirmative actions under the theory of positive discrimination for few decades to tackle the marginalize of the weaker sections of the society. The same was done for the underdeveloped Muslims of India during British rule and they were given special allocations / reservations in educational institutions across the India in the pretext of the same rational.
The said demand was raised constantly by the serious quarters of social sectors including rights activists during five years. Thanks to the reports of the human rights bodies and most recent report of the US international commission for religious freedom, the people at the helms of the affairs found it appropriate to accept the genuine and legitimate demand of the reservation of the education quota for the minorities in Punjab.
Ms. Ayra Indrias Patras, Member National Delegation for Minorities in Pakistan said ‘National Lobbying Delegation, a group of 24 members of minority communities had been struggling for the inclusion of minority quota in higher education institutions since 2015. Demanding for the realization of affirmative measures for the marginalized minority communities in Pakistan, NLDS has been engaged in advocacy campaigns with parliamentarians, policy makers, bureaucrats in Punjab, Khyber Pukhtunkhawa and Sindh. It is indeed a momentous occasion to witness the approval of 2 percent education quota and if implemented in later as well as in spirit, it will provide students of downtrodden communities an access to education institutions of HEC and will also promote diversity and inclusivity in the social fabric of the society’.
National Lobbying Delegation NLD for minority rights and prominent civil society groups of minority rights has been pivotal force behind this demand since 2006. During the lobbying and advocacy campaign was pioneer in raising this demand before the governments and other stakeholders comprehensively. The group learnt that 5% job quota can only be fulfilled if the students of the minorities are able to reach up to the level of higher education. The Christians in Punjab and Sindh especially, are educationally backward and are left far away behind than the other contemporary strata of the population due to the extreme poverty, state negligence, and most importantly the ignored behavior of the very own educational institutions of these religious minorities especially belonging to the Christian community.
Mr. Ejaz Alam Augustine Minister for Minority Affairs and Human Rights said ‘the quote was introduced to improve the lives of people hailing from minority communities’. He further said ‘the job quota available for the minority groups was being wasted because there were no “suitable candidates” available for the jobs’. At present, data collected from government departments which showed that most of the people belonging to the religious minorities are doing menial jobs.