by Swati Goel Sharma - Mar 28, 2023, 04:49 PM
Picture for representation
You cannot eat or drink in public in Pakistan these days without fear of being fined or jailed. If you run an eatery, you cannot serve food during the fasting hours from sunrise to sunset for a month.
The sixth president of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, brought a law to that effect during his tenure from 1977 to 1988.
The Ethram-e-Ramzan Ordinance 1981, touted as a law to preserve the sanctity of the holy month of Ramzan, prohibits Muslim residents from eating or drinking in public places, and prohibits all hotels from serving food during the fasting hours. Cinema halls are prohibited from screening films before or just after Iftar.
The law has seen several amendments over the last 40 years, where penalties have been increased. For instance, in 2017, a department under the Religious Affairs Ministry an amendment for increasing fines for hotel owners from Rs 500 to Rs 50,000.
Over the years, following litigations and public appeals, exceptions have been made for hospitals, railway stations and schools, but with conditions.
As with the country’s blasphemy laws, the Ramzan laws are routinely used for harassing citizens and persecuting minorities.
Reports of arrests of citizens for eating or drinking or selling food in public are routine. The arrests often happen after police raids in markets or complaints by residents. Read , and .
In 2014, report of the lone cinema hall In Islamabad shutting down indefinitely caused an uproar. Police raided the mall housing the cinema hall for showing a film around Iftar time.
In 2019, an unfortunate case from Lahore when a poor man named Iqbal had to spend six years in jail for selling paan to a customer during fasting hours. Some years earlier, a case when police hauled up three men for having soft drinks.
Pakistan daily The Dawn where a policeman caught two youngsters drinking packaged juice from a market and dragged them in the open. The “proud cop” declared aloud that he had seen them drinking juice even as the youngsters pleaded that doctors had advised them to not keep their stomach empty.
Most parts of Pakistan are facing extreme heat conditions these days.
In the latest such episode, police in a Hindu-populated area of Sindh province were caught on camera this week manhandling and assaulting shopkeepers for cooking food. One of the men is seen pleading to the police (in Sindhi), saying, “I swear that I belong to the Hindu community, and he is taking away food. We do not run the dining service indoors during Ramzan.”
The cops, however, physically thrashed them and arrested about a dozen men. A video showed a policeman forcing a Hindu dhaba owner to place a murti of his deity on his head and swear against selling food.
After the video of the incident went viral on social media, the Sindh Human Rights Commission took cognisance and ordered an inquiry. As per Pakistan media reports, station in-charge of Khanpur Police Station has been suspended.
Some years ago, an 80-year-old Hindu man from the same Ghotki district of Sindh was beaten up by policemen for selling food during fasting hours. Gokal Das was reportedly thrown to the ground by police and thrashed badly. Pictures of an injured Gokal Das, showing blood stains on his shirt, went viral on social media. The incident was reported from Hayat Pitafi village.
The same year, a Hindu man who worked as a journalist with Associated Press of Pakistan revealed that after his colleagues found out that he was Hindu and not Muslim, they prohibited him from eating with them at the time of breaking their fast in the evening.
Progressive voices in Pakistan have time and again raised concerns over the laws, calling them unconstitutional and prone to misuse, especially for further persecuting minorities as recently seen in the Ghotki case.