The Predicament of Minorities in Pakistan
As per the annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (UNCIRF), all religious minorities in Pakistan continue to be attacked and discriminated against by ‘extremist groups and society at large’ killing 231 people and leaving 691 injured in 2017 alone.
The same report stated that ‘the government of Pakistan failed to protect these groups adequately, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations’.
Paradoxically, the rights ensured to the minorities of Pakistan by its very constitution are being denied, not only by the common masses, but so too by those that supposedly are the guardians of justice.
The plight of minorities in Pakistan is implicit in its very structure. No matter how much one tries to dodge it, the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 did have and continues to have a staggering role to play in the current grief-stricken conditions of the minorities living in Pakistan.
The Hindus and Sikhs that fled Pakistan had in their memories the stubborn portraits of them and their loved ones either killed, raped or maimed. Whatever happened on the other side of the border was no dissimilar.
Amidst such circumstances, one is forced to question whether Islam really is a force for good and unity or is it to be used to rationalise spilling blood and bringing divides as the struggle for Pakistan and the subsequent division of the Indian subcontinent limned.
The very battle for the creation of Pakistan despite the preliminary disapproval by the likes of Maulana Azad, Maulana Mehmood ul Hassan, Maulana Abul Al’a Maududi and so on and so forth, was carried through in the name of Islam. The case in point for the clerics following the making of Pakistan was to ‘make it conform fully to their interpretations of Islam’, albeit compellingly. The demands followed suit.
The petition to declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims was advanced not too long after independence. The then government did everything it could to curb down the masses’ anger, but not for long as it itself ended up passing a resolution wherein the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims. Since then, their persecution has largely been going unnoticed.
Jinnah, a Shi’a himself, would certainly be aghast to get word of how brutally have Shi’as been treated in this country. 140 of them have gone missing over the past two years, and ironically, nothing has yet been done to bring them back to their loved ones.
Target killing of Hazaras in Quetta — a city that is home to roughly 600,000 Hazara Shi’a Muslims — continue to surface every now and then to which the authorities often turn a blind eye.
Christians have in particular faced maltreatments after being accused of blasphemy — a hoax used to make justiciable the horrendous killings. The list of incidents is stretched, horrific.
The case of Asia Bibi who was convicted under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and giving tongue to sacrilegious remarks with regard God and Islam, will always remain a case lengthily recalled for the reason that it retracted international attention. After spending 9 years in prison, she, much to most of the masses’ anger, was released by the supreme judiciary.
The reaction depicted by what PM Imran Khan precisely called the ‘chota tabqa’ was widely seen, talked and written about. Let’s not get into that.
The point I want us to quintessence on is how the right-wingers hypocritically altered their opinion about Asia’s acquittal from saying that women aren’t subject to punishments in Islam after they blaspheme to saying that she should have been hanged to death because she had blasphemed. We sure as shooting don’t want to force ourselves into thinking that they must have been obligated to change their opinion — comparable to how they think about the supreme judiciary and the elected government.
Pakistan that has for decades lived in wilderness is in dire need of a leadership capable of seeing beyond the present state of affairs and ensuring that the policies adopted help the browbeaten in the long run. A leadership devoid of vision will further worsen the already worsened conditions the minorities of Pakistan are living in.
Learning from the past will always be a prerequisite for certifying that the mistakes whose repercussions we are still grappling with aren’t repeated.
It’s about time the state realised that the laws that by and large have been contributing to the targeted, systematic and foreseeable violence marched on toward them need to be revisited and brought in harmony with the changing times.
A nation’s domestic strength depends greatly on how it treats its minorities. Within is where the state needs to look, for what happens without majorly stems from it.
Pakistan opening the gates to Sikh pilgrims to visit the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak in Kartarpur is an ingratiating omen that can bring about interfaith harmony that Pakistan has long been desiring for — and in need of.
The very raison d’etre that the then leaders of Pakistan vindicated via a state ideology needs to be revisited — a point I oftentimes accent on, for that is where the roots of the poisonous tree Pakistan has been affected by lie.
Should the leaders of Pakistan want it to be more of a pluralistic state than how monistic it presently is, it mustn’t make a gift of it for the perpetrators of extremism as effortlessly as the past is a bystander of.
Last, individual efforts can contribute a great deal to the monolithic portrait in the minds of the minorities living in Pakistan. A lion’s share of the sweepers we see on a daily basis belong to the Christian community, and if only we can treat them compassionately and help them with however little money we can, a society grounded on pluralism that currently seems far from built, can be made possible.
The white strip in our national flag will always remain a constant, and so too should the humane treatment of those the former attests the presence of.�
P.S. This op-ed has been published in The Nation — one of Pakistan’s leading English dailies.