Will I ever be a Pakistani?

Published: February 24, 2012
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Pakistani Christian minority leader J. Salik sprinkles ash over his body to protest the Quran burning by US pastor Terry Jones. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

During the cricket World Cup in 2011, many who knew that I am a Hindu, including some of my colleagues, asked me who I would support; India or Pakistan. The question was very irritating and annoyed me to the point that I would lose my temper. I didn’t understand why on earth they would ask me such a stupid question – just because I’m Hindu?

Why isn’t the same question asked of a Christian when Pakistan plays against Australia, England or New Zealand?

Despite the fact that this state was created with a pledge by the father of the nation for equal rights for minorities, be they religious, civil or political, all these promises now seem to be convenient quotes uttered on national holidays. These quotes often serve the purpose of rhetoric for many right-wingers and so-called liberals.

Sixty five years on, and the state has been unable to own religious minorities for some obvious and oblivious reasons.

Pakistan was never created as an Islamic state as is understood by many of us. The credit for this goes to the distorted history taught in our  text books. There is, what I have understood, a great difference between an “Islamic state” and a “state for Muslims”. But thanks to the Objectives Resolution which was later incorporated on March 12, 1949, just six months after the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it was made into an entirely “new state”. Since then, it has been an unending tale of disowning minorities and representing a grim picture of a Pakistan that had been differently thought out.

Jinnah was indeed a supporter of minorities and their rights in the then newly created Pakistan. Rationally speaking, who else can better understand the rights of minorities than Jinnah, who himself had been fighting for the rights of Muslim minorities in pre-partition Hindu-dominated India.  Had it not been so, he would have never said:

You are free; you are free to go your worship places. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.

Moreover, the Constituent Assembly to which Jinnah made this speech was presided over by Jogendar Nath Mandal, a schedule-caste Hindu, who was the first law minister of Pakistan. But regret is the feeling that comes to your mind when you read these words and see the reality today.

The notorious Objectives Resolution not only transformed a Muslim state into an Islamic state, but it also deprived the shrinking ratio of religious minorities from civil and political rights too. This insertion in the constitution forever closed the doors for minorities to become, or even think to become, prime minister, president or even governor of a province.

Then came 11 bleak years of dictator Ziaul Haq, who hit the last nail in the coffin and transformed the fabric of the state into a completely Islamicised fabric. The over-ambitious dictator tried, to his full potential, to Islamise everything including the school curriculum, ideology and dress.

In doing so, he ignored the rights of minorities, as a result of which they are facing persecution now at the hands of so-called orthodox and religious fanatics. If the minorities had been secure, the ratio of their population would not have dipped down to a meager four percent from 15 percent at the time of independence. The reason is that a vast majority of the Hindu population has migrated to India or other countries because they are targeted by kidnappers for ransom; there is forced conversion of young Hindu girls to Islam and biased attitude towards to them in day to day life.

Hindus are more financially stable than the Christian minority and have options to move elsewhere; unfortunately for the Christians, they have no other options. They are born for unending persecution in Pakistan.

What more can be said of the minorities’ plight that they have lost their religious identity in the midst of persecution and oppression?

Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Bahis and other minorities are identified in texts and official documents as ‘non-Muslims’.  It ought to be clear that ‘non-Muslim’ is not the identity of the religious minorities living in Pakistan. They are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Bahis and so on. The word ‘non’ is simply a negation of something. If ‘non-Muslim’ is the identity of any religious minority, then there are non-Hindus, non-Christians and non-Sikhs. To make this clearer, in Urdu, all other religious minorities are labeled “ghair Musalman” and the literal meaning of “ghair” is “the one who is not our own”.

How can one develop a sense of belonging for minorities if things remain so? In the least, the minority members should be given an identity, if not security.

Another dilemma with minorities, particularly Hindus, is that many of them, especially in Punjab, relate Hindus to India and don’t consider them fellow Pakistanis. This discriminatory practice can upset and frustrate many Hindus who are disowned by their own country when they are called Indian just based on religion. A Pakistani Hindu feels as bad about being called an Indian as an Indian Muslim being called a Pakistani.

There is a dire need to own religious minorities; this can only be possible through rendering them equal civil, political and social rights. There is a serious need to revise the curriculum and legislation on the needful.

Kapil Dev

Kapil Dev

A communications consultant who writes on minority rights and social issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.