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Friday, July 19, 2024

Big zero for minorities in Pakistan’s national budget 2024-25

Pakistan’s 2024-25 national budget, which last year allocated 100 million Pakistani rupees for minority development, gave no funds to it in the latest budget. The funds typically support education and religious functions of Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, who make up less than 5% of Pakistan’s population.

In Short

  • No funding for minority welfare in Pakistan’s 2024-25 budget sparks criticism
  • Minorities, less than 5% of Pakistan’s population, face low literacy and lack support
  • Minority leaders say budget cut will harm students relying on scholarships and aid

Pakistan, which tries to lecture other countries on minorities, has done its best for minorities in the Islamic Republic. Pakistan’s budget allocation for the welfare of religious minority communities, which was 100 million Pakistani rupees last year, was entirely omitted from the 2024-25 federal budget without any explanation.

Pakistani minority leaders have criticised the government for not allocating funds for their welfare in the new national budget, calling it a setback for the development of minorities like Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, whose numbers are dwindling anyway.

Religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, make up less than 5% of Pakistan’s 244 million population, with Hindus and Christians each constituting 1.6%.

The Federal Budget for Pakistan for 2024-25 was presented on June 12 by Federal Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, totalling 18.87 trillion rupees ($68 billion).

MORE FOR HAJJ PILGRIMS, NOTHING FOR MINORITIES

The budget included 1,861 million rupees for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, an increase from the previous year’s 1,780 million rupees. This allocation covers funding for Hajj pilgrims to Mecca.

However, the budget allocation for the welfare of religious minority communities, which was 100 million rupees last year, was entirely omitted this year without explanation, reported UCA News.

Pakistan’s budget for Defence Affairs and Services has increased by around 17%, with this year’s allocation totalling around 2.12 trillion Pakistani rupees.

ZERO ALLOCATION FOR MINORITIES TO HURT STUDENTS

Minority leaders are concerned about the impact of this decision, especially on students who rely on scholarships and support during religious festivals.

“The fund was scarce from the beginning. Now, the fund has completely vanished, just like the minorities’ ministry at the federal level. Our students will suffer. They need government support,” Ejaz Alam Augustine, former minister for human rights and minority affairs in Punjab was quoted as saying by UCA News.

In November 2008, Pakistan established the Federal Ministry for Minorities for the first time.

Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was appointed as the minister but was assassinated in March 2011. The Ministry later replaced the ministry for National Harmony and Minorities Affairs, which was eventually merged into the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony in 2013 by the Pakistan Muslim League.

A Sikh educationist criticised the new coalition government of the Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan People’s Party for not offering any hope.

“I have never observed any scheme specific for the Sikh community. If any fund is announced, it will benefit larger communities like Christians in Punjab and Hindus in Sindh,” he said.

AHMADIYYAS CONTINUE TO BE PERSECUTED IN PAKISTAN

The Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani constitution in 1974, faces persecution from Sunni Muslim hardliners.

“We do not consider ourselves minorities. However, the state policies equally affect us,” said Amir Mahmood, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, reported UCA News.

Chaman Lal, chairman of the Hindu welfare group Samaj Sewa Foundation Pakistan, sees a bleak future for religious minorities.

“Cash transfer and small development schemes for minorities have decreased while attacks on vulnerable communities have increased. They just don’t care for us. They bow to religious extremist groups, but they can at least try for the socio-economic empowerment of the minorities,” Lal said.

He also questioned the performance of minority representatives in provincial legislative houses.

Religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, make up less than 5% of Pakistan’s 241 million population, with Hindus and Christians each constituting 1.6%. Church sources claim that only 34% of religious minorities, including Christians, are literate, and just about 4% pursue university education. According to Lal, only 18% of marginalised Dalit people, officially known as scheduled castes, are literate, reported UCA News.

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