Pakistan’s Parsi Parliamentarian fights for minority rights

Isphanyar Bhandara Demands 5% Job Quota In Private Sector

The 1857 Revolt had big and small consequences for the sub continent. One of the largest was the British Crown formally extending its sovereignty over India. A far smaller side-effect was a brewery established in the Punjab in 1860 to cater to British troops. Fast forward 155 years and the British Raj is a distant memory , but Murree Brewery ­ now a flourishing enterprise listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange ­ is still churning out barrels of the frothy , locally-brewed lager along with whiskey , gin and Irish-Cream liqueur.

Article by Nergish Sunawala | TNN

The Parsi CEO of Murree Brewery , Isphanyar Bhandara, who is in the city to give a talk at the Observer Research Foundation on minorities in his capacity as a member of Pakistan’s national assembly , described what it’s like to be a liquor baron in a largely dry nation. “The religious minorities like Christians, Hindus and Parsis are given licenses to consume alcohol,“ he explains.Of course there’s always the risk of a radical “Taliban-like“ government coming to power and ending these privileges.“I’d say there’s a 5% chance of that happening,“ says Bhandara, “because the Pakistan army–no matter how much Indians curse it–stands between us and these rogue elements.“

15_03_2015_007_038_013In the national assembly , Bhandara represents Pakistan’s smallest minorities including Parsis, Sikhs, Baha’is and the Kalash people, who re side in the mountains of northern Pakistan. Larger minorities like Hindus and Christians have their own representatives. During his tenure, Bhandara hopes to pass bills to increase the number of seats for minorities in the national and provincial assemblies and es tablish a mandatory 5% employment quota for religious minorities in the private sector.He also hopes to curb the forcible conversion of Hindu women to Islam by requiring a first class magistrate to bear witness. “So if the girl is killed or abused that magistrate can be held responsible,“ he explains.

Bhandara’s late father, also an MNA, took an active part in promoting Indo-Pak ties. His son also sees many untapped avenues for cooperation including visa-free travel for businessmen, the re-establishment of consulates in Mumbai and Karachi, and allowing Pakistanis to invest in India. In fact, Bhandara has long been on the look out for an Indian partner interested in brewing Murree beer. On the Kashimir issue, he says, “both sides should agree to disagree“.

While Bhandara readily agrees that Pakistan has moved away from its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s pluralistic vision, he cautions India’s BJP government from going down the same path.“Narendra Modi has a notorious past with Muslims but as prime minister he has become the father of the country . And now they are all your children ­ Muslims, Parsis ­ you have to take all of them along.“

There are less than 1,400 Parsis in Pakistan and they face the same problems as their Indian counterparts including late and interfaith marriages, as well as fewer children. However, like in India, the community has never been a target of religious persecution though of course bombs and gunfire don’t discriminate.