On 2 March 2011, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed after unknown gunmen opened fire on his car, spraying him with bullets. He was 42-years-old.
With the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan has lost a critical voice of moderation, tolerance and pluralism. An uncompromising defender of minority rights, Bhatti grew up in Khushpur in Faisalabad where his father, Jacob, was a teacher.
A champion for minority rights, Bhatti was the first Christian parliamentarian who took oath as Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs in Pakistan. He was also one of the founding members of the ‘All Pakistan Minorities Alliance’ (APMA) in 1985.
Bhatti obtained an undergraduate and master’s degree in public administration at the University of Punjab. He later went on to read political science and also gained a diploma in international relations.
His far-reaching reforms are a testament to his commitment to ensuring the welfare of the voiceless, disenfranchised and downtrodden. Among a raft of reforms, Bhatti introduced a five percent quota for minorities in all government jobs and four reserved senate seats. He also established 11 August as Minority Day in Pakistan and a 24-hour crisis hotline to report acts of violence against minorities. He ensured that a prayer room for non-Muslims was included in the prison system and launched a campaign to protect religious artifacts and sites belonging to minorities.
Despite the danger, Bhatti fearlessly campaigned for the rights of minorities in accordance with the founding vision for Pakistan propounded by Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a haven for those seeking refuge from oppression. Sadly, Pakistan has strayed far from is original ideals as innocent people like Bhatti who dare to challenge the rising hatred and intolerance are cruelly gunned down with apparent ease.