Even in disaster, there appears to be no end to the discrimination we have become accustomed to as a part of life in an increasingly intolerant society and where minority populations live in a most vulnerable existence. As happened last year, we have seen cases of discrimination take place at relief camps in some places in Sindh, where lower caste Hindus say they have not been able to obtain any relief goods after being turned away from the camps on the basis of their faith and social status. It is not certain who is responsible for this abominable display of discrimination but given the penchant of many of us to look down on those with beliefs different than ours, it is an entirely plausible claim. We already know that in every disaster situation, the poor, the powerless and the most helpless suffer the most. Even in ordinary times, religious minorities, too, often make up a part of these groups. And they need to be rescued from such a fate.
On an immediate basis, the provincial authorities need to issue directives to ensure that there is no evidence of bias at relief camps or an unwillingness to help all communities on equal basis. It could be that this happened at camps run by private organisations, but either way the authorities must ensure that relief and assistance is provided to all those who need it, regardless of religious belief.
The fact that this has happened, reflects the kind of society we have built and live in. In terms of rhetoric, there is much talk of equality between citizens and protection for the most vulnerable. In effect, we seem to be sliding quite the other way. Instances in which minority groups continue to be targeted, sometimes with lethal consequences, are being reported on an increasingly frequent basis. And it is quite likely that many incidents go unreported. There have been instances where Ahmadis or Christians have been killed, while in one incident Sikhs in Lahore were prevented from observing a religious ceremony at their temple. In times of humanitarian crisis, the kind we see in the floods, victimising certain people amounts to even greater cruelty and reflects very poorly on ourselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2011.