Our minorities, but not our people

Published: July 30, 2016


Avinash Kumar and Sateesh Kumar; these were the two latest victims of the undeniably worsening trend of minority persecution in Pakistan. Seventeen-year-old Sateesh is dead. The two boys were targeted because the local community was ‘incensed’ by reports that a Hindu man, Amar Lal, had ‘desecrated the Quran’. Since they were Hindus and easy targets, someone in Ghotki saw them as fair game to act out their deeply (and rather easily) offended religious sentiment.

This incident is disturbing but not just because of its depraved message of murderous retribution for any perceived ‘blasphemy’. It is also a grim reminder of the lack of sensitivity towards psychiatric illness prevalent in Pakistani society.

By the accounts of local Hindus, Amar Lal is mentally ill—and they also deny the accusations of blasphemy against him. What is perversely difficult is deciding whether Amar Lal was lucky or unfortunate to be arrested for his ‘crime’. Why? Because on December 22, 2012, in Dadu, a mentally unstable man was beaten to death by a crowd and his body set on fire on the pretext of his having desecrated the Quran. Out of all the reprehensible things done under the pretext of punishing blasphemy, this sticks out for me as singular in its savagery and absence of empathy.

Next, on January 24, 2014, a 70-year-old Scottish-Pakistani, Muhammad Asghar — who exhibited classic, textbook symptoms of Bipolar Disorder — was sentenced to death for blasphemy (he had claimed Prophethood and written letters to people in this regard). While the sentence has not been carried out yet, he is still incarcerated, in poor health and his family remains concerned about the possibility of an execution.

Those who cannot empathise, accommodate, and feel compassion for the mentally ill cannot have an iota of humanity in their hearts. While the Pakistan Association for Mental Health has made a lot of effort to combat stigma and myths surrounding mental illness they do not have the resources for the sort of campaign that is needed to increase awareness throughout the country. Much more is needed.

One aspect of minority persecution is the propensity of certain clerics and other individuals to vilify them in general, and target them as a community when accusations such as blasphemy arise. If a Muslim is accused of blasphemy only the individual is targeted. In the case of minorities the entire community is targeted, churches and temples are razed; houses are burnt to the ground.

No matter how many ways we try to spin this issue, it is manifest that in many parts of Pakistani society viewing minorities as lesser humans has been normalised. Many grow up learning to have less empathy for the ‘Bania’ and the ‘chuhra’ than for people of the ‘correct’ faith. For all the self-righteous finger-pointing at the caste system over the border, we have developed our own.

This can only change when the constitution of the country makes no distinction between faiths. It will only change when clerics who preach hatred against minorities are held accountable and no longer allowed to peddle hate in the name of faith. It will change after we stop cleaving minorities from the body politic through separate electorates but actually start electing Hindus and Christians in general elections on merit.

But the other aspect of this issue is the lack of will and the impotency of the state I mentioned earlier.

One wonders what it will take for the state to take some sort of meaningful action to stem this sanguineous tide. Outside of token commiserations and handing out a few thousand rupees to victims, nothing has been done to protect minorities.

What justice did the Christians of Shantinagar and Khanewal receive? Where are the perpetrators of the Joseph Colony incident? Who will track down and punish those who planned and executed the Easter bombing at Allama Iqbal Park?

Back in April, when there was an attempted police operation in Rajanpur it ended with a massacre and mass kidnapping of police officers. The media reported that police personnel lacked the proper arms, logistics and even boots. Forget about changing mind-sets, what sort of end to this violence can we expect when terrorists own sophisticated weaponry and seem rather well-funded while the police force is reduced to a sad joke through corruption and lack of budget allocation?

Let us stop deluding ourselves that any progress has been made when it comes to the treatment of minorities or law and order in general. Without thorough police reform and the rooting out of corruption in politics we will have neither the leadership nor the capability to end this madness.

Khusro Tariq

Khusro Tariq

The author is a Pakistani-American Psychiatrist currently pursuing training in Jungian psychoanalysis. He blogs on Huffington Post on matters of psychology, faith, politics and poetry. He tweets as @KhusroKhwaja (twitter.com/khusrokhwaja)

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

  • Rohan

    Nazariya of Pakistan thanks to quaid ka Pakistan Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Pakistani hindus r welcome in India.Its useless to suggest anything to muslims and seek better result for them.Run away if you can.These guys can be paranoid on a pity issue and will hurt you fatally.Recommend

  • Parvez

    When our political system relies heavily on political patronage and those patronized are criminals and religious extremists, the end result will be like this….a complete implosion of what remains as society today.
    The sad thing is those with the power to do right and they actually do have the power, do not wish to exercise it or find loopholes in the system to distance themselves from doing what they should do. Recommend

  • vinsin

    That is why all partition should be complete. Hindus themselves are responsible for staying in Pakistan even after partition.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Mullah has completely ruined Pakistan. Nobody is safe from the poison that he exudes.Recommend

  • Binoy Varghese, Kerala

    Pakistan and Pakistanis who usually rant out vociferously against Bharat have suddenly been shown a mirror and their silence is deafening. Leave alone Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, even Muslims are not safe in Pakistan…And ‘Ahmadis’ have been failed ‘constitionally’ how can you blame Proud Pakistani bigots???Recommend

  • Bharat

    The Hindus should come to India, and the Muslims should go to PAKISTANRecommend

  • Milind A

    No sympathies for them.. They had a chance to come back to India in 1947, however instead of trusting their coreligionists and refusing to see the writing on the wall, they stayed back and put faith in people with history of pillage and murder.Recommend

  • genesys

    True..so should the 180 million muslims in India should get back to Pakistan in exchange for the few thousand Hindus still left.The logic is correct..Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Some of the things Muslims will say online:

    These are not Muslims, this is a conspiracy against Islam, the victims are provoking Muslims so that bad name can be brought to Islam and eventually even if they are Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace. Ironically, most of them claiming so are fans of Saudis, Babur’s, Aurangzeb’s, Ghauri’s and most importantly, the Wahabism.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Hindus staying in Pakistan is like goats staying in a fox’s lair.Recommend

  • LS

    Poor did not have that choice. It costs money to travel which they did not have. Most of the folks who had the means moved, rest we all know how they are kidnapped, converted, burned, killed, beaten…

    but pakistani’s will always be more concerned about what is happening to muslims around the world or in India esp.. or Kashmir.. and will act as if their country is holier than thou despite the forced conversions, killings and decreasing number of minorities in their country.Recommend