Can a non-Muslim hero be honoured in Pakistan?
That Pakistan is afflicted with the evils of bigotry and prejudice is no secret. But however much one gets accustomed — sadly, even immune — to this state of affairs, one is still left aghast at the extremely narrow worldview held by certain quarters.
The recent backlash that was witnessed against the Dilkash Lahore Committee’s proposal — later thankfully approved by the city’s district coordination officer — to rename Fawara Chowk in Shadman after Bhagat Singh, the pre-Independence Indian freedom fighter, is a case in point.
Now, one could have disagreed with this proposal on various grounds.
One may argue that however noble Singh’s goals may have been and however courageous his stance against British imperialism was, the use of violence to achieve one’s objectives is misguided.
Another argument offered is that Singh was essentially an Indian hero, not a Pakistani one, and that there are many who have served Pakistan diligently over the years and are perhaps, more deserving of such an honour.
One could have agreed or disagreed with such arguments and with this proposal. But my real beef is with the grounds over which this move was initially opposed by some quarters. The argument presented was that as Pakistan is a Muslim country, its major landmarks should be named after Muslims only!
This is what I find highly abhorrent.
This line of thinking that views our non-Muslim compatriots as second-class citizens has fast gained currency and there seems to be no voice raised and action taken, either at an official or societal level, to arrest this worldview.
Pakistan has been well-served by many of its non-Muslim citizens who have risked, in fact, even sacrificed their lives for the country, be it Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry or Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat who was martyred in the 1971 war. Then there are also distinguished citizens like Justice A R Cornelius, Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Justice Dorab Patel, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Julius Salik and Bapsi Sidhwa, who have served Pakistan in various capacities without asking for any recognition in return. One wonders if there will ever come a time when Pakistanis of all hues will open-heartedly acknowledge and appropriately reward the services of our non-Muslim compatriots, and when the act of acknowledging them will not be followed by the kind of repugnant campaign that was recently witnessed.
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