India is ready to talk about religion. Is Pakistan?

Published: January 4, 2015
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The mobs claiming to kill in the name of religion in Pakistan may be a small minority of the country but they are the most vocal and there are no avenues for the silent majority in Pakistan to make their voices heard.

The new Rajkumar Hirani-directed Bollywood movie PK starring Aamir Khan and Anushka Sharma has divided opinions in India. ‘#BanPK’ trended on Twitter, there were protests all over India and religious groups burnt posters of the movie at processions but the movie is in course to be the highest grossing Indian film of all time.

India’s silent majority is letting its position on the issue known by supporting the movie. There are no mass protests in support of the movie but the positive reviews online and thousands of people taking to social media to praise it shows India is ready to have the ‘religion’ debate.

There was outcry from religious groups, and threats of mob violence but the courts and the government must be admired for not bowing down under the pressure of these mobs. The Supreme Court passed a verdict simply saying,

“Don’t watch the film, if you don’t like it.”

It is not as if the religious groups are not as strong in India as in Pakistan, it is just that their state is stronger than ours. In a country with the writ of law, mobs cannot act with complete impunity. The Supreme Court judges who passed this judgment were not afraid they would be shot in their chambers after passing the judgment. Having worked in the legal fraternity in Pakistan, I can testify that some judges in Pakistan are afraid to pass judgments based on their feelings and reason in cases which may involve religion.

India prides itself on being a secular country, despite the Narendra Modi-led regime riling the Hindu nationalism to gain votes; the regime paved its way to victory largely due to its economic performance in Gujarat. For the common man in India, how the country will perform economically is more important than the religion of the leader.

The previous Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was a Sikh and in the regime before that the president, Abdul Kalam, was a Muslim. In Pakistan you have to be a Muslim to hold the highest offices in the country. In fact, even to become a citizen of the country or get a Pakistani passport, you have to sign a form declaring that you find Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.

PK has raised many questions about how religion is exploited by people claiming to be ‘managers’ of God on earth. The director insists it is not so much about questioning people’s religions but the use of religion in society. In Pakistan, we are having a similar campaign with Jibran Nasir leading civil society representatives against people like Maulana Abdul Aziz and Aamir Liaquat. The difference in Pakistan is that the state structures buckle under the pressure of mobs.

The mobs claiming to kill in the name of religion in Pakistan may be a small minority of the country but they are the most vocal and there are no avenues for the silent majority in Pakistan to make their voices heard. People do not even share their opinions on social media over fear of backlash.

PK is doing well in Pakistan, the device of an alien combined with the focus on the Hindu religion means that the movie has not come to the right wing’s attention in Pakistan. We are not even ready to have a debate on blasphemy law, let alone religion in general. Religious clerics such as Maulana Abdul Aziz still garner huge support and Mumtaz Qadri remains a hero to some factions in the country. Judges are afraid to hear his case. Lawyers and judges involved in blasphemy cases have been shot down in the past.

In fear of all this violence, people with differing views on religion choose to remain quiet. PK’s success in Pakistan may not be indicative of the public opinion but it shows there is a certain section of society that does aspire to the ideas put forward by the movie. The civil society’s movement against Maulana Abdul Aziz is further evidence of that. None of that means that Pakistan should be a secular country or religion should not play a part of our lives in Pakistan but people who may hold differing opinions should not have to live their lives under the constant threat of violence.

I doubt anybody involved in the making of PK feels any passer-by may shoot them whereas in Pakistan the news of Salman Taseer being shot by his own security guard did not even come as a shock to most people – it seemed inevitable since the first time he ever questioned the blasphemy law.

It is this fear that religious leaders use to promote their ideas under the guise of religion. They are allowed to act with complete impunity by the state because the actors in the state are too afraid of the mobs these people command. The recent recommendations by the state are a positive step in the right direction but a lack of any commitment on the state’s part to act on those recommendations shows there is a long way to go before a movie like PK can be produced in Pakistan.

If the state is too afraid to take a stand against people misusing religion in the country, how can you expect the common people to? This is why the civil society’s stand against Maulana Abdul Aziz must be admired. Now we have to wait and see whether, like in the movie PK, Maulana Abdul Aziz kay pass wrong number hai (Maulana Abdul Aziz got the wrong number).

PK may not leave a huge impact on the people of Pakistan. They may laugh at the eccentricity of the opinions of PK or at the strange pointed out ears of Aamir Khan in the movie. People may have a good time at the theatre and go home without pondering over the deeper issues raised but Indian cinema must be admired for attempting such a bold theme. Pakistan may never be able to come out with a movie addressing any of the similar issues faced by the country but in light of the recent civil society uprising in Pakistan, PK comes at the right time.

I will leave you with the question that PK leaves for all of us to ponder over in an adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot idea, we live in a small city, in a small country, of a small world, in a small galaxy with millions of planet. A galaxy contained a cluster of galaxies and a universe with an infinite number of these clusters. A vastness of space with billions of galaxies, stars, planets and worlds that God presides over yet in this small city we feel we need to be the protectors of a God of all these infinite worlds?

shehzad.ghias

Shehzad Ghias

A graduate from the LUMS Law School and is running his own theatre production company, Cogito Productions.He works as a theatre teacher at various schools. He tweets @Shehzad89 (twitter.com/Shehzad89)

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