Today in Pakistan a seven-year program of public protest and fasting, billed as a ‘token hunger strike’, commenced.

Christian leaders together with civil society organizations are using the ‘token hunger strike’ as a means of peaceful and non-violent public protest against the separate electorate system and in favour of the restoration of a joint electorate in Pakistan.

The first ‘token hunger strike’ was scheduled for 19 October with a sit in from 10 am to 5 pm at the Charring Cross in the center of the city of Lahore.  Bishop Samuel Robert Azaraih, Bishop of Raiwind, Group Captain Cecil Chaudhary of the Salvation Army, and Peter Jacob, Executive Secretary of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace were to lead the sit in and fast.

More ‘token hunger strikes’ are planned for other cities in Pakistan.

“The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has been concerned for some time about the Separate Electorate System in Pakistan.  This system was imposed by the military dictator General Zia-Ul-Haq in 1985.  Under this system members of religious minorities, such as Christians, can neither vote for Muslim candidates nor can they stand as candidates in Muslim electorates.  There are separate electorates on the basis of religion.  Muslim voters can only vote for Muslim candidates while non-Muslim voters can only vote for non-Muslim candidates contesting seats reserved for their religious group.  The Constitution provides that 207 seats in the National Assembly are reserved for Muslims and 10 seats are provided for religious minorities (4 for Hindus, 4 for Christians, 1 for Ahmadies and Parees and 1 for other religions)”, explained Bishop William Brennan, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC).

“We fear that the system of Separate Electorates creates and reinforces divisions among the citizens of Pakistan encouraging religious bigotry and restricting the voting choices of all citizens, Muslims and members of religious minorities alike. The ACSJC is committed to the promotion of religious tolerance and the freedom of religion and belief for all people everywhere and so we support the struggle of religious minorities in Pakistan for full and equal rights as citizens”, concluded Bishop Brennan.