The right to thought is a vital, indispensable freedom that paves way for progress, advancement and prosperity. This right enables people, communities and societies to engage in healthy dialogue, conversation and debate. Without this right, it is difficult to know different perspectives and opinions people hold. If and when marginalized and vulnerable communities are able to enjoy the right to thought and conscience freely and safely, not only will they be able to express their diverse opinions and perspectives but also will be able to express the difficulties and limitations they face.
Also called the freedom of conscience or ideas, it is the freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint or thought independent of others’ viewpoints. The freedom of thought is derived, and therefore very closely linked to other important liberties such as the freedom of religion, speech, expression and association. All of these are very important, enabling rights that empower all individuals to be part of an inclusive, tolerant and accepting society. International law and the Constitution of Pakistan set the foundation and make it possible for every citizen to be able to exercise these rights equally and freely. But do we, as a society, allow every individual to be able to enjoy these rights? Do we allow marginalized and vulnerable groups to freely access the rights they are lawfully entitled to? Do we allow diversity to nurture and embrace and celebrate differences in opinions, views and perspectives? As Felix Adler once said, “The freedom of thought is a sacred right of every individual man, and diversity will continue to increase with the progress, refinement, and differentiation of human intellect.”
The rights to conscience, thought and religion are enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. The right to thought includes the freedom to form opinions, hold beliefs and follow religion without fear of conflict, discrimination or retaliation. The constitution guarantees fundamental rights to every citizen of Pakistan, safeguarding the legitimate interests of marginalized and vulnerable groups. It guarantees every individual the right to access information (Article 19A), the right to expression and speech (Article 19), the right to profess religion (Article 20) and the right to form peaceful associations (Article 17) and assemblies (Article 16).
Therefore, it is our responsibility as citizens of Pakistan to create an environment where these rights are easily accessible. It is our responsibility to create an environment where there is zero discrimination and all communities, especially the marginalized and vulnerable are able to exercise the right to thought, expression, religion and association without facing conflict, harassment or hostility.
These freedoms are widely spoken about and promoted both online and offline. A recent digital campaign is also making rounds on social media, increasing awareness about these rights and the importance of enabling all individuals to access these rights, especially those who are marginalized and vulnerable. Not only do such campaigns increase awareness about these rights but also educate us about the laws that grant us these rights and the institutions that protect them.
The laws are present and the institutions are functional; it is now up to us, the people of Pakistan, to ensure these rights are equally accessible and availed by all citizens.