A nation that forgets its heroes will itself soon be forgotten

Published: January 29, 2015
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This is the pluralistic and democratic Pakistan we live in, the suffocating land of the ‘pure’, where the ‘other’ and the ‘impure’ are condemned to insignificance. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

This is the pluralistic and democratic Pakistan we live in, the suffocating land of the ‘pure’, where the ‘other’ and the ‘impure’ are condemned to insignificance.  PHOTO: FACEBOOK This is the pluralistic and democratic Pakistan we live in, the suffocating land of the ‘pure’, where the ‘other’ and the ‘impure’ are condemned to insignificance.

 American president, Calvin Coolidge, once said,

“A nation that forgets its heroes will itself soon be forgotten.”

It was a moment of relief and glory for Pakistanis when a hero, who was later turned into a ‘villain’ by conspiracy theorists, won the noble peace laureate on October 9, 2014. Yes, it is our brave Malala who is the youngest recipient in the world to have received this prestigious award. She will continue to be despised by those who consider anyone getting an international acclaim a ‘yahoodi agent’ (Jewish agent), ‘ghaddar’ (traitor), ‘kafir/ mashriq’ (non-Muslim/ Western) or a ‘drama’. However, whenever someone mentions Malala and the Nobel Peace Prize, there comes an automatic flashback of our much forgotten and never duly acknowledged, first ever Nobel Prize winner, Dr Abdus Salam.

Malala Yousafzai. Photo: AFP

Today, January 29,2015, marks the 89th birthday of Dr Salam. He was a genius, to say the least; topping the matriculation exams at Punjab University, with the highest marks ever recorded, and later getting scholarships at the Government College, University of Punjab, Saint John’s College, and at Cambridge for his PhD. He excelled wherever he went, so much so that 42 honorary doctorates were bestowed upon him by different universities of the world.

Men of his intellect are seldom born in the history of nations and are the greatest asset of any country, but it’s a pity that he was not treated justly by his own countrymen. He is buried in Rabwa; while it is shameful that he was not even given a state funeral, what is worse is that the word ‘Muslim’ was removed from his grave epitaph on orders of the judiciary. The grave now reads ‘First Noble Laureate’. He won the Nobel Prize for his contributions towards the unification of electroweak forces. Dr Salam was at the forefront of theorising the Higgs Boson particle in the 1960s and 1970s and who, along with Steven Weinberg, applied the Higgs mechanism to electroweak symmetric breaking.

Dr Abdus Salam.

His contributions in the field of natural and physical sciences are exemplary, and not only has he won many awards and honours, many documentaries have been made on him. The rest of the world acknowledged the contributions that Dr Salam made so much so that roads – CERN in Geneva where the Higgs Boson particle was finally discovered – and institutions have been named after him. The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy being one such example.

But how many people in our country know about this brave hero?

Can we ever imagine his name in our history books along with Tipu Sultan, Jinnah, Allama Iqbal or more precisely, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan for that matter?

All of us know the answer to this and the reason as well; his religious belief took precedence over his innumerable achievements. This is the pluralistic and democratic Pakistan we live in, the suffocating land of the ‘pure’, where the ‘other’ and the ‘impure’ are condemned to insignificance, regardless of what achievements and rewards they bring for the country. It’s a shame that the world celebrates our heroes and we not only forget them, but never even acknowledge their contributions in the first place.

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. Photo: Reuters

I was once walking outside King’s College near the Somerset House in London. While reading the profiles of the notable alumni, the name Sir Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan caught my attention. Truth be told, this was the first time I had ever heard of him. As I continued to read his achievements, there developed a mixed feeling of pride and shame inside of me. Mr Khan was a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, a law graduate from King’s College and the only Pakistani president of the United Nations general assembly. In 1970, he was elected as the president of the International Courts of Justice in The Hague. Moreover, he was an active member of the Pakistan Movement, presided at the Delhi meeting of the All India Muslim League in 1931 and advocated the cause of Indian Muslims through his presidential address. He participated in the three Round Table Conferences held in the years 1930, 1931 and 1932. Furthermore, Mr Khan was appointed the judge of the Federal Court of India in September 1941 and was the first ever appointed foreign minister of Pakistan by Mr Jinnah himself – a post which Mr Khan held from December 25, 1947 till 1954. But since he also belonged to the Ahmaddiya community, his contributions were never fully acknowledged or remembered.

Sir Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan. Photo: Wikipedia

Similarly, Mr Cecil Chaudhry is yet another example of a forgotten hero. He was the first photo-journalist of Pakistan, a veteran fighter pilot who was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for shooting down three Indian aircrafts in a mission in the 1965 war and Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the 1971 war. His name was mentioned in the history text titled ‘Humaray Ghazi aur Shaheed’ but is not included in our history books any more. Mr Chaudhry was interrupted in 1983, when returning from his designation in Iraq, and was told that he would not be promoted any further. He has recorded that the discrimination in the forces started against the minorities from the Ayub era, where,

“Many generals felt it would not do if a Christian general one day stood up and took power in Pakistan.”

Cecil Chaudhry. Photo: PAF archives

Later, he asked to be discharged in 1985 and emerged as a human rights activist and educationist, holding the position of the principal of Saint Anthony’s College, Lahore and Saint Mary’s Academy, Rawalpindi. He contributed to bringing education and electoral reforms and his efforts culminated in the creation of a joint electorate system in 2012. In 2013, former president, Asif Ali Zardari, approved the conferment of the President’s Pride of Performance Award upon him.

But Mr Chaudhry is not widely known in our generation nonetheless, nor is Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat, who was martyred in the 1971 war.

However, there have been some distinguished minority figures who contributed towards the betterment of the country without demanding any acknowledgment in return. These include Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Justice Dorab Patel, Justice AR Cornelius, Bapsi Sidhwa, Ardeshir Cowasjee and Julius Salik.

Top: Julius Salik (L), Ardeshir Cowasjee (C), Justice AR Cornelius (R)
Bottom: Bapsi Sidhwa (L), Justice Rana Bhagwandas (R)

Generally speaking, there is, comparatively, still some room for acceptance when it comes to celebrating heroes who happen to be ‘ahl-e-kitab’ (people of the book). But those belonging to the Ahmaddiya community are strictly outcasts when it comes to being celebrated as heroes.

It is ignominious that though the father of the nation embraced the minorities and spoke of pluralism, his message has been lost and was never followed upon. Instead, it is covered by the smokescreens and propaganda of religion and ‘conspiracy against the state’.

This is not the Pakistan Mr Jinnah had envisioned and is definitely incongruent with the ideology of the Pakistan movement. So where did the subsequent drafters of the constitution get their inspiration from?

Article 25 of the constitution clearly states the equality of citizens but despite this general provision of non-discrimination, there are laws which are discriminatory by every definition. We should learn from our neighbours, where Muslim heroes, despite being a minority, are celebrated – Akbar, Amir Khusrau, Ustad Bismillah Khan and Dr Abdul Kalam, to name a few.

Unfortunately, we are wasting our potential, our pride and our honour, and before we become forgotten as a nation, let us start celebrating our heroes unconditionally.

Ayesha Siddique Khan

Ayesha Siddique Khan

A barrister at law from Lincoln's Inn London and has LLM in International Protection of Human Rights Law from University of London.

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