The proposed stricter regulations on fasting during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan reflect Pakistan's increasing intolerance to Christians and other religious minorities, according to critics.
Last month, Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs gave the green light to an amendment on the "Respect for Ramadan" (Ehtram-e-Ramazan) bill. While the public sale and consumption of food or beverage from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the fasting month is prohibited, the consequences now include physical violence and steep fines for violators, the World Watch Monitor notes.
Critics have slammed the amendment as not aligned with Islam and prejudiced toward the non-Muslims in Pakistan. In 2009, two Christian brothers were arrested under this regulation An elderly Hindu who was diabetic was also beaten by a policeman last year for eating rice in public ahead of the scheduled breaking of the fast.
"I find this law extremely hypocritical and prejudiced – not only on a social level, but also on a religious level," author Komal Ali said of the amendment. "My driver, who is a Christian, recently told me that he hadn't had lunch because all the restaurants were closed."
Anglican Bishop Peter Humphrey of Peshawar has expressed concern over the announcement that violators of the new law will be imprisoned. Rights activist Shams Shamaun called for better treatment of religious minorities during the Ramadan, and criticized the law as discriminatory.
Gujrat District Police Officer Sohail Zafar Chatta, a Muslim who lives in Punjab where a majority of Christians live, posted a statement on Facebook asking people to respect Christians' sentiments.
"Is it Ehtram-e-Ramazan, or just don't-eat-in-my-presence attitude?" another Muslim said on Facebook. "There is no compulsion in religion. Not even during Ramazan!"
In a post on Twitter, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's daughter Bakhtwara said the new "ridiculous" law will cause people to die from dehydration and heatstroke. Temperatures in Pakistan have risen to more than 40 degrees since the beginning of Ramadan, ABC notes.
Pakistani rights activist Tahira Abdullah believes the amendment was passed to target religious minorities in the country, noting that all access to food and drinks are closed down during the fasting period without special consideration for non-Muslims. However, Senate Committee chairman Maulana Hamdullah denied the allegation, saying the new Ramadan law only reflects the country's establishment as an Islamic state.