Should he stay silent just because he is a Hindu MNA in a Pakistani National Assembly?
Lal Malhi’s one minute and thirteen seconds on the National Assembly floor this past week summed up more than just the ignorance of our elected representatives; it spoke to an alarmingly prevalent disregard for our Hindu citizens.
That not all Hindus are Indian and that not all Indians are Hindu seems too complex a concept for most of us. If only these despicable “Hindu ga’ay ka pujari” (Hindus are cow-worshippers) slogans were an anomaly.
Earlier this month, the hammer-wielding Lutf Lashari destroyed five idols in Durga Shiv Mandir (the story eerily broke in a very Fox News “let-me-tell-you-how-this-man-was-mentally-ill” style). Malhi also called attention to forced conversions: he spoke of a 14-year-old abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. This incident, too, is not an isolated one.
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace estimates around 300 annual forced conversions for Hindus and the vice chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) estimates that 20 Hindu girls are abducted or forcibly converted every month.
It is hard to understand then the exclamation and surprise of fellow Pakistanis upon hearing that, on average, 5,000 Hindus move to India every year and that in 2015 alone, 4,300 members of Pakistan’s Hindu and Sikh community were granted Indian citizenship.
It’s about time we explicitly register that we have failed our religious minorities. That constructing a cross in Karachi does not and will not compensate for decades of discrimination that we have subjected upon our Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities. Not to say anything of the pain and suffering our Shiite community has faced.
This acknowledgment is critical to understanding how the Muslim-majoritarian bias, born out of the need to cater to Muslim majority provinces within the context of a pre-partition Hindu-majority India, has persisted through the decades. Jinnah had foreseen many implications of the religious rhetoric for partition and had begun a campaign to ease religious tensions and incorporate all religious groups within the fold of a single, united nation.
However, the country’s leadership over the years has fallen short of fulfilling Quaid’s assurances that for all political purposes “Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims” and that religion has “nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Bhutto’s declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims and Zia’s vast Islamisation are perhaps the most apt examples. Our leaders have levied harsh laws on the country’s minorities for political advantage with fundamentalist parties. These laws have not only been damaging in the narrow sense of their ill effects on specific minority groups, but have also resulted in a broader institutional detriment characterised by the government’s tendency to intervene in matters of religion.
There are no quick fixes to these unfulfilled promises of equality.
The path to restoration of these weak relations must begin with a full-on acknowledgement of our failures as a country. Listen closely and Malhi’s voice is laced with sorrow – it’s an outburst, a complaint from an outwardly composed but inwardly disheartened, disillusioned man on the verge of tears. His demeanour represents the sad fate of our minorities.
Our founder would turn in his grave if he heard that a Hindu MNA is expected to sit silently in the face of hate speech in the country’s highest political body.
Let us then move beyond airing Jinnah’s call for plurality and equality across religions on Independence Day alone and really think hard about internalising his message in our daily state of being. It’s about time we take a closer look at our priorities both as a nation and as individual members of this society. There is much that our political leadership must fix. But there is much, much still that must emanate with the people. Us. The readers. The drivers. The cooks. The doctors. The lawyers. The engineers. The teachers. The students. The everyday Pakistanis.
You want a life changing lesson this Ramazan? Let it be one of humility and acknowledgement. Perhaps, this blessed month, as we celebrate our freedom of religious observation, we’ll keep in mind there are millions in our country for whom we haven’t afforded the same luxury.
Know that this recognition does not make us villains and it certainly does not imply that the entire country, without exception, is a religiously intolerant space for minorities. To derive so would only fuel shallow misconceptions about a diverse and largely welcoming people. It should, instead, help highlight our misplaced national priorities and underscore an important shortcoming for a resilient people so that we can begin to seek mature answers to difficult questions.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.