House on the hill

Published: June 13, 2010

Gaze at it however long from the outside, little makes sense. Pakistan resembles a house designed and built from the inside, piece-meal, with varied sub-standard materials, by perennially distracted architects.

In the unfinished basement are the “minorities” — those deemed capable of sanctuary but incapable of being seen above the surface. They are the Christians, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Ahmadis, the Shi’as, the Queers and the Transgendered. All must remain silent, none can be heard. Remember when a blasphemy rumour ignited Christian villages in Punjab, last year? Remember the cases of forced conversions of Hindu families? Remember the kidnapping of Sikhs? Remember the attacks on Shi’a processions and mosques? Those are the results when basement-dwellers, silenced communities are seen or heard.

There are laws which provide the infrastructure, the divisions of this house. It protects the majority by keeping the minority out of sight, uncounted and unheard. The Hindu cannot get her marriage recognised, the Ahmadi cannot call his place of worship a mosque. The Shi’a cannot fly his banner. These are the laws of the state — drafted in 1974, in 1978, in 1984, in 1992. It is this very structure which dehumanises millions of Pakistanis, every moment of every day.

There is the majority, the people who live in this house. They are always Sunni Muslim — though they are quite capable of throwing this or that “Sunni” faction out in a heart beat. They are always urban — the rural, the semi-urban lives remain out of the pale. They are always concerned with their upward mobility. They want security, prosperity, the latest electronic gadget and the fastest car. For themselves. They are never poor, never working class, never provincial but they are its consumers: they hire the poor for their housework, they buy from their carts, they embrace the diversity of fabric, the exoticness of “Sufi poetry”, the colourful beads and the regional sweets.

There is a state. It is now on Twitter, even. This state, those laws, that the majority has mutually, over the last 50 years constructed a house in which none can exist save the chosen ones. This existence comes at a price. They agree to believe in the finality of the Prophet (pbuh) or else, cease to exist — legally and, perhaps, with the right incentive, corporally. They agree that their biggest threat are some sketches, or some Facebook fan page or some insult published in some book, in some incomprehensible language, in some faraway country. They agree to rage, to burn, to destroy their own property to represent their commitment. Who must bear their forceful self-assertion? The basement dwellers, of course, who must now be massacred, since liberty was already denied to them. They are wajib ul-qatl, we have already asserted.

The majority is not so secure, however. Some say Allah Hafiz and some Khuda Hafiz. Some are known to say Ameen aloud in prayer and some under their breath. Some hang amulets around their necks and some don’t. Some shave their beards, others grow mustaches. Some are known to skip Qur’an studies for IT. Some practice birth control. Some take only one wife. Some actually believe in that Sufi business. Some put God in a cabinet. Some are vegetarian.

Once the Ahmadis, the Shi’as, the Hindus, the Christians were also part of the upstairs. They were also members of the house. The poor were once the founders. Slowly, they were moved down; eliminated. This is not history. This is precedent.

The writer is a historian of Islam in South Asia and currently teaches in Berlin.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 13th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • DZ
    Jun 15, 2010 - 8:14PM

    Brilliant! I’m out of words. Really, really amazing article!Recommend

  • Faisal
    Jun 15, 2010 - 8:30PM

    What an awfully written article. While I agree with the essence of what the author is trying to convey, why is he confusing ‘class’ with ‘religion’? Two very separate an distinct issues, and by conflating the two, he is trying to oversimplify an issue which assumes far more complex dimensions. Is he honestly suggesting that all members of the Sunni-majority take the role of, sorry to sound so cliched, the Bourgeoisie, while all others are the financially oppressed classes by default? Please don’t conflate two separate problems–one’s class, the other’s religion. Recommend

  • Jun 15, 2010 - 11:13PM

    //They are the Christians, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Ahmadis, the Shi’as, the Queers and the Transgendered.//

    What is wrong with this sentence? Whomever will have figured it out, will know what went wrong with Pakistan.

    As I had said in the case of another such piece, the writers are also bred, fed and raised at the same stable. The good-natured ones show occasional pre-programmed lean to the left, causing themselves to fall – because there was nothing to lean against.

    Now there are two things to figure out – the article and this comment.Recommend

  • Naeem Akhtar
    Jun 16, 2010 - 1:47AM

    No one can stop talent and hard work, gender/religion/sect/provincial discrimination all are just lame excuses to get more than a person deserves.

    Come on Be honest and tell Don’t we see rich Shia/sunni/sindhi/hindu/christian/ahmedi don;t we see them all around us if you don;t then let me know i will tell you that the current president is Shia, that the richest people are in Karachi, that the people who are killing Baluchs are there own as well. Come on haven’t you seen rich hindus and very well off Ahmedis? Yeah there are poor Hindus in Sindh but please there neighbours are equally poor but they are Muslims.

    What we need to Realize as a nation is that its we the people who can change our life We wont succeed until and unless we stop discrimination. One can not ask for no discrimination when the same person is asking for More Quota in jobs. Why we have so much Double standards? Isn;t this the time when we start being productive and stop looking at others. Recommend

  • Khurram Husain
    Jun 16, 2010 - 5:26PM

    “There is the majority, the people who live in this house. ” ummm.. ok

    “They are always Sunni Muslim — though they are quite capable of throwing this or that “Sunni” faction out in a heart beat.” always? and once they’ve thrown ‘this or that sunni faction’ out, the “sunni majority” you speak of is then inside or outside the house?

    “They are always urban — the rural, the semi-urban lives remain out of the pale.” really? always? and the rural and semi urban people who would call themselves ‘sunni’ are outside what pale?

    “They are always concerned with their upward mobility.” wow! only them?

    “They want security, prosperity, the latest electronic gadget and the fastest car. For themselves.” really? all sunnis are defined by their desire for these things exclusively? or just those who do the chucking out and live in urban areas? and of course the other species you mention are defined only by their oppression? of course none of them would ever stoop so low as to perhaps want “security, prosperity” for themselves? And by themselves, do you mean specifically themselves, or for the religious grouping you’ve clumped them into?

    “They are never poor, never working class, never provincial but they are its consumers: they hire the poor for their housework, they buy from their carts, they embrace the diversity of fabric, the exoticness of “Sufi poetry”, the colourful beads and the regional sweets.”

    really? so the majority are in fact wealthy, owners of capital, urbanites? the majority hires the rest for housework? and out of all people selling produce on carts, none are sunni? and those who would chuck out other sunnis from the house somehow also “embrace the diversity of fabric, the exoticness of sufi poetry…”???

    “This is not history. This is precedent.”

    Ya! And this is not analysis. This is gibberish.Recommend

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