Following in the footsteps of his legendary father, the late Minoo Bhandara, CEO Murree Brewery and member of the National Assembly with PML (N), Isphanyar Bhandara is raising his voice to protect Pakistan’s minorities. He talks to Blue Chip about the desperate state of minorities in Pakistan.
In his first meeting with the newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Isphanyar Bhandara said that Pakistan’s new prime minister described minorities as “Pakistan’s treasures” and that the new government is “very serious” about ensuring the protection of Pakistan’s minority groups.
In 1947 Pakistan was created as a haven for all from persecution, yet the downtrodden condition of minorities starkly exposes how Pakistan has fallen woefully short of its founding mandate.
The abject state of Pakistan’s minority Christian, Hindu and Parsi communities is what motivated his father to campaign and advocate tirelessly for securing their rights. Now Isphanyar Bhandara has taken up the mantle from his late father, emerging as a brave and articulate voice for the voiceless, “There clearly seems to be a lack of commitment on the political front, I wanted to help to contribute. The minorities in Pakistan just want religious protection and of course jobs. I want to look after their interests because there is no solid voice for minorities, it is easier to chant slogans for the majority but who is going to speak up for the down trodden minorities?”
Economically powerless, Pakistan’s minority communities remain consigned to lives of unremitting poverty and injustice. “They need representation because their voices are often suppressed,” says Isphanyar. In Bahawalpur, Isphanyar Bhandara is supporting the Hindu community in their struggle to be given the opportunity to work as janitors in government offices, starkly highlighting how even the most menial jobs are being denied to them. “Their concern was not for a loan or a plot of land – the request was that they had been denied the right to be janitors in the government. How cruel can you be?” Isphanyar was taken aback at how little they were asking for, “I was stunned, they are asking for so little. Sadly this is just one example.” While in Bahwalpur, Isphanyar attended a Hindu festival where the locals still remembered his late father and the work he had done for them.
Another grim example of minority discrimination is the usurpation of graveyard land by land grabbers. At present, Ishpanyar is fighting a case in the High Court against the expropriation of a Parsi graveyard in the capital city which has been continuing for the last ten years. “There was an ordinance issued in early 2000 which prohibits the sale, transfer or lease of property of religious importance. It is a clear ordinance. But still our land is being grabbed,” says Isphanyar. Hindu graveyards are also located in prime areas and remain vulnerable targets for land grabbers.
Has the state of minorities deteriorated over the last few years? “The answer is a definite yes. Over the last five years, the state of minorities has deteriorated considerably,” asserts Isphanyar. In light of the horrific killings of Pakistan’s former minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, Isphanyar’s bleak assertion remains a grim reality.
An ardent campaigner, Isphanyar Bhandara will ensure that minority rights issues do not continue to flounder on the margins of public debate. For a country which purports to be founded on the principles of liberation and justice, the abject state of minorities stands as a blistering indictment against Pakistan.