April 23, 2021

By Rehan Piracha


The People’s Commission on Minority Rights (PCMR) has expressed dismay over the reported remarks of Chela Ram, the chief of the state-appointed National Commission on Minorities (NCM), expressing his disagreement with the content of the report presented by the one-man Shoaib Suddle commission to the Supreme Court.

In its report to the apex court on March 30, the Shoaib Suddle commission had recommended shifting the entire Islamic content from compulsory subjects like Urdu, English and General Knowledge to Islamiyat in the Single National Curriculum. However, Chela Ram stated that the NCM had unanimously endorsed the curriculum following a recent briefing by an education ministry official on the Single National Curriculum, adding that the members of the NCM are the real representatives of the minorities in Pakistan.

Responding to Chela Ram’s statement, the PCMR, a civil society organization, said Chela Ram’s statement is tantamount to supporting the violation of the fundamental right of religious minorities guaranteed under the Article 22 of Constitution of Pakistan.

In a joint statement on behalf of the PCMR on 22nd April, Justice (r) Kailashnath Kohli, advocate Kalpana Devi, M Parkash Mehtani, Dr A H Nayyar and Peter Jacob stated that Chela Ram apparently was uninformed of the opinion of educationists, the recent directions of the Supreme Court as well as Pakistan’s constitution on the subject.

“The educationists and minority rights groups have long campaigned for improving the standard of education and adhering to the Constitutional restriction on religious teachings in subjects that are compulsory to students of all faiths. The NCM cannot ignore the interest of the minority students in education, ” reads the PCMR statement.

The PCMR stated that by doing so NCM will betray the trust of religious minority communities whose children have for years been subjected to forced teaching of Islamic studies in schools.

A recent study by the PCMR of the model textbooks for grades I to V issued by the Ministry of Federal Education have shown that every Urdu textbook contains lessons on majority religion, which is a violation of Article 22 of the constitution of Pakistan. “The PCMR believes that the NCM ought to study these aspects of the SNC and the textbooks, listen to the viewpoint of civil society groups, and consider the impact on students of minority faiths before issuing any comment on the Single National Curriculum,” the civil society group said.

Peter Jacob, Chairperson of the PCMR, said Article 22(1) of the constitution safeguards minorities’ right to an education free of any religious instruction in compulsory subjects. “It implies that no lesson in any textbook that is compulsory to students of all faiths should contain material specific to any religion,” he told Voicepk.net.

The stance taken by the citizens and responsible platforms should not be for appeasing anyone, Jacob said. Therefore, the PCMR shall work for enforcement of the directions of the Supreme Court given during February and March 2021, and the 8th report of One-Man-Commission in the light of Article 22(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan, he added.

Peter Jacob reiterated that it is a duty of all citizens and forums to uphold the command of the constitution. He said the matter was still in the Supreme Court. He said the propaganda against the exclusion of religious content from compulsory subjects was reflective of a certain mindset and lobby. He said upholding the constitutional provisions cannot be termed a foreign conspiracy.