The curse of the minorities

Published: October 10, 2011

The writer is a historian at Keble College, University of Oxford

Everyone in this world is a minority in one way or the other. In a society, men are either the majority or the dominant sex, one religion outnumbers another, one sect has more followers than the other, or one ethnicity overwhelms another smaller one numerically. In civilised societies and mature democracies, the emphasis for the last few decades has been to recognise such differences and to take steps to offer equal opportunities to everyone. Belgium, for example, has developed a complex federal system where the three linguistic communities have maximum autonomy within the Belgian constitution. Obviously, these systems do not make everyone happy, but their evolution exhibits attempts by countries to evolve in ways so that no one feels like a minority — everyone feels, and is effectively, a full citizen of the country.

Pakistan is the creation of a minority complex. The Muslims in India were fearful of the numerical majority of the Hindus, post the British departure, and therefore wanted a separate homeland for themselves so that they could safeguard their interests. So, in the words of the Muslim League, India was inhabited by only two communities: Muslim and Hindu, where both needed separation.

What the Muslim League forgot in this ‘Two Nation’ theory was the fact that the Muslims were not a homogenous community. There were a lot of internal fissures amongst the Muslims and several sections of the Muslim community were oppressed and discriminated against. Differentiation on the basis of caste, sect and ethnicity ran deep amongst the Muslims of South Asia.

When Pakistan was created, only people belonging to non-Muslim religions were considered minorities. Therefore, Christians and Hindus became easy targets for anti-western and anti-India attacks respectively. They were also clearly discriminated against in the constitution, the civil services, education and in general. Hence, when human rights groups focused on ‘minority persecution’, the gaze easily centred on these embattled communities.

But in the supposed ‘one’ Muslim nation there were, and still continue to be, several other minorities too. They might be Muslim, but they too were discriminated against. The Hazaras of Balochistan (and Afghanistan) are one such community. They are Muslim, but they are Shia. They are Pakistanis, but they are of Mongol descent. These simple, yet critical sect and ethnic descent disparities have made them an easy target of Taliban’s attack, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are nearly a million Hazaras living in Pakistan who are easily recognisable because of their Central Asian features. However, their religious sect has made them liable for extermination in the eyes of some co-religionists.

Always a poor and oppressed community, rampant attacks on the Hazaras have become increasingly common in Balochistan. In an environment overrun by military and para-military personnel, the cold blooded killings of Hazaras just because of their religious affiliation has showed either the connivance of the government or their utter inability to control such acts — but most probably both.

The need for the immediate protection of the Hazara community is self-evident. However, what is of long-term importance is the recognition of the plight of the Hazaras, who live in constant fear, and for concrete steps to be taken to bring them into the mainstream of Pakistan.

Pakistan is a country which does not like to accommodate difference, and cannot tolerate diversity. Tolerating difference, of any kind, is unknown in Pakistan, and immediately one is labelled as the ‘other.’

Pakistan can only hope to climb out of this quagmire if we begin to accept everyone who lives, works in, and loves this country, as a full Pakistani citizen — or else most of us will only remain as embattled minorities and never full citizens.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2011.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (44)

  • M Baloch
    Oct 10, 2011 - 9:39PM

    Thank you dear author for saying it aloud that Hazaras are being targeted because they are Shias not because of their ethincitiy as they are not in conflict with Pashtun & Baloch on ethnic basis as they are among themselves or with Punjabi settlers, although Shias from other ethnicities are also being targeted (Notable examples: Many attacks on Baloch Shia leader Allama Maqsood Domki & many Punjabi & Urdu speaking settlers (called Hindustani there) have been killed ) but they are not in such big population that they could get notice of media & authorities.Recommend

  • Homa
    Oct 10, 2011 - 9:49PM

    People need to remember that we are first and foremost all human beings, before any of the other external identity labels get added on. Healthy societies encourage their members to work to make this world a better place for all. Gentleness and kindness in the heart will lead to peace in the society. Such values of the heart cannot blossom fully if people don’t learn how to celebrate diversity and accommodate difference, and if they do not value non-violence as a higher virtue. Thank you for supporting this humanistic idea of tolerance towards all those who are different.

    Recommend

  • Truth Seeker
    Oct 10, 2011 - 10:07PM

    Ancestors of present Pakistani generation tolerated Hindus and other minorities as long as they were ruling India.Tolerating differences is an unfathomable goal for those who can’t tolerate equality even after death by not permitting others to share their graveyards and then paradise in the Hereafter.
    Heretic and traitor or synonyms for all ‘others’, hence it will remain a society of minorities and deprived citizens, unless matters between God and His creation are left to the individuals and their Creator.

    Recommend

  • narayana murthy
    Oct 10, 2011 - 10:10PM

    I’m actually surprised that even the educated and erudite Pakistanis believe that Pakistan was created for the Muslims of the subcontinent.
    Pakistan was created for the rich businessmen, zameendars etc. There was heavy vested interest in the creation of Pakistan. Honestly, I believe, there was no honesty in the creation of Pakistan. Let me elaborate before people pounce on me.
    It would make sense to ask for a different homeland, if you are persecuted by the majority. In other words, if Muslims were persecuted by Hindus in 1940s, then the demand for Pakistan would have been legit. But, there were no persecution or oppression of Muslims.
    Recommend

  • sharifL
    Oct 10, 2011 - 10:11PM

    Too much religious brain washing can cause more carnage to inter faith living than wars. It is wrong to believe that I am right and others are not. Tolerance is not part of conservative religious minds. I think it will get worse before it it gets better.

    Recommend

  • Abbas from the US
    Oct 10, 2011 - 10:18PM

    Pakistan now has additional minorities that were not considered as minority at the time of its inception. The fact that the founding fathers did not consider them any different when the idea of Pakistan was being floated, is because the the minority complex that the writer speaks about that was the driving force then was an economic motive more than a religious motivation ever. The fact that Jinnah himself with roots in several strands of Islam, was enjoined in the leadership with people like the Aga Khan, Chaudhri Zafarullah, the Raja Saheb of Memudabad, alongside Liaqat, Abdur Rab Nishtar, all belonging to the practice of Islam in several different ways, is a confirmation of this thesis.

    Having achieved the economic goals of seperate developmentin the achievement of Pakistan. The ideas that have divided the Muslim thought process right from the time that Islam found a place in Arabiya, have now come to the forefront. The fact that this has become the main focus is also a result of the clergy trying to regain a place of economic importance thru the quest for a State based on religion, when the original motivation became secondary or of no consequence.

    The Hazaras as the last major entrant to the ethnic mix within the larger ethnic groups already resulted in their minority status, and their own acceptance of Shiaism as well as well as Farsi as their language, a variant of Islam that particularly has significantly more appeal to those that suffer from the persecution complex makes them an available target for double discrimination both in linguistic ethnic terms as well as relgious terms.

    The sooner both Pakistan and Afghanistan move away from the need for these societies to find a religious basis of existence the easier it will be for this particularly persecuted minority to liberate itself from the bias that preexists against their religios beliefs furthered by their self accepted language, democracy will help them find some kind of a proportional representation to coexist with the larger ethnic majorities.

    Recommend

  • Nero
    Oct 10, 2011 - 11:04PM

    This is the result of bringing religion (ISLAM) into politics. Many people who oppose secularism say that secularism in Europe was the result of inherent weakness of Christianity to provide security etc to all. Now these people would be SHUT UP. They can no longer say that Islam is okay as state religion since it gives rights to minorities. No, it does not. Islam treats non-muslims as DHIMMIS which means “Protected”. This is not EQUALITY, it is INSULT. Every citizen must be equal BEFORE THE STATE.
    And lastly, TO ALL THOSE DUMMIES WHO WANT MORE ISLAM in the state, wait and see the day when you shall realise your mistake and false pride.

    Recommend

  • Oct 10, 2011 - 11:21PM

    Islam seeks to establish such a society where all citizens of the state enjoy equal rights and religion does not become the basis for any discrimination. Islamic law holds both Muslims and non-Muslims equal and no superiority or privilege is given to the Muslims on any ground. The history of Islam is replete with such examples.

    Once, a Muslim, who was accused of killing a non-Muslim, was presented in the court of Hazrat Ali (ra). The evidence supported the accusation. When Hazrat Ali ordered the Muslim to be killed by way of qisas, the relatives of the murderer made the brother of the killed forgive by paying him the compensation money. When the Caliph came to know of it, he asked, “Perhaps these people may have coerced you into saying so.” To this, he replied in the negative, saying that the killing would not bring his brother back. Since they were paying him blood money, it would help the family financially to some extent. The Caliph agreed to the deal but added that the principle underlying the functioning of his government was “the blood of those of our non-Muslim subjects is equal to our blood and his blood money is like our blood money.” Recommend

  • Nadir Khan
    Oct 11, 2011 - 1:02AM

    Two thumbs up!!!

    Recommend

  • N
    Oct 11, 2011 - 3:23AM

    Kudos. Well written with courage.

    What is it about us that we accept our ‘inherent superiority’ over non – Muslims without the slightest discomfort?

    Recommend

  • Ram Bharose Singh
    Oct 11, 2011 - 3:45AM

    @Khalid Masood: You said -”Islam seeks to establish such a society where all citizens of the state enjoy equal rights and religion does not become the basis for any discrimination. Islamic law holds both Muslims and non-Muslims equal and no superiority or privilege is given to the Muslims on any ground. The history of Islam is replete with such examples.”

    Your opinion of Islam and Islamic theology and Islamic History is just that- YOUR OPINION.

    People who have lived with Muslims as rulers above them have different opinion. Also there are 50+ Islamic states and in every Muslim state, anyone who is a minority is discriminated and persecuted – whether it is Sunnis in Iran OR shiities in Saudi Arabia OR Copts in Egypt OR Hindus in Malaysia. And then we have the one and only – Land of the Pure Muslims…..the less said the better

    Recommend

  • LongLivePak
    Oct 11, 2011 - 4:00AM

    Islam has all the answers that the modern world requires.The problem is that people are not following the “true” message of Islam.

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Oct 11, 2011 - 5:01AM

    @ LongLivePak

    I guess if we follow the the “true” message of Islam as you suggest, we would end up imposing ‘jijiya tax’ on minorities as was done by our great rulers of this sub continent during our glorius past.
    Do you think that will help?

    Recommend

  • vasan
    Oct 11, 2011 - 6:11AM

    “Pakistan can only hope to climb out of this quagmire if we begin to accept everyone who lives, works in, and loves this country, as a full Pakistani citizen — or else most of us will only remain as embattled minorities and never full citizens.”
    Almost an impossible task, unless and until the entire educational system in pakistan is overhauled and people stop teaching religious hatred, false history etc. Even then it will take more than 50 years for the current situation to change

    Recommend

  • Sajida
    Oct 11, 2011 - 7:17AM

    This is all due to Wahhabism.
    And poor Hazaara are bearing brunt of fact that virulent Wahhabism was brought in to get rid of the Soviets.
    Once you plant something toxic, it is not easy to get rid of it.
    I do not think you can compare Belgium today to Pakistan. Europe has passed its period of killing for religious reasons. The Belgians are much more evolved.
    In India you can get killed if you are a Dalit and carry an empty pail in front of higher caste Hindus! When you have this type of mentality, laws unless religously enforced mean status quo is maintained.This part of the world has developed a very intolerant view of people in religious context. It may be worse in Pakistan because it is constituted of people who saw religious intolerance in India and then came virulent Wahhabism. The complemented eachother.

    Recommend

  • narayana murthy
    Oct 11, 2011 - 7:18AM

    @LongLivePak

    Islam has no answers in fact. I don’t know if my comment will be published here!

    I can tell you that Islam doesn’t even transcend my common sense.

    I would be lynched by a mob, if I were a Pakistani and had said it.

    Every religion is man made. Every prophet is a false prophet. Every god is a lie. This includes 3 million Hindu gods also.

    Of course you can’t agree with this, because you have been taught to think within the box. The box of Islam. When you cannot see the world that exists outside of this box, how can you know the larger truth?

    Recommend

  • vasan
    Oct 11, 2011 - 9:44AM

    Narayanamurthy : Well said. The only addition I can add is that Muslims are addicted to Islam and non muslims are not addicted their religion. And you know what addiction causes,

    Recommend

  • Oct 11, 2011 - 9:45AM

    @Ram Bharose Singh:

    Surely some rulers must have deviated from the teaching if Islam but that is because or their personal or other reasons. You cannot blame Islam or the teachings of Islam for their follies.

    Recommend

  • sanjithmenon
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:46AM

    @Khalid Masood: Ha not all smokers die of cancer or heart disease, but some do, so we say no to smoking. Hope you know how to read between lines.

    Recommend

  • sharifL
    Oct 11, 2011 - 11:18AM

    @LongLivePak: Is that why most of Pakistanis want to emigrate to non Muslim west? You are dreaming.
    Tolerance and human rights are more important than anything else.

    Recommend

  • antony
    Oct 11, 2011 - 12:17PM

    @longlivepak, “Islam has all the answers that the modern world requires.The problem is that people are not following the “true” message of Islam” I will bring history before you where similar voice was prevalent in europe in 12 to 16th century as “Bible” has all the answers that their modern world requires and The problem is that people are not following the “true” message of Bible” .To highlight in 16th century ,Church head (pope) made galileo under house arrest as he said earth revolves around the sun as against bible Psalm 104:5 says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved ” .. So Christians today does not take literally the words written in bible and accept fallibility of people who wrote these verses at their times.. But the hard part to swallow is if God oversaw what these holy people wrote and God knows what they write is wrong then why did he allow it ..No brainer !! .I would side with vasan and narayanamurthy comments!!!.

    Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Oct 11, 2011 - 12:37PM

    @Truth Seeker:

    Ancestors of present Pakistani
    generation tolerated Hindus and other
    minorities as long as they were ruling
    India

    Oh! you mean your Arab and Afghan macho ancestors don’t you?Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Oct 11, 2011 - 12:41PM

    @LongLivePak:

    Islam has all the answers that the
    modern world requires

    If that’s true Pakistan would not have needed to steal their nuclear tech from rest of the world. E=m*c^2 would have been somewhere mentioned in Koran.

    Recommend

  • Chacha
    Oct 11, 2011 - 1:36PM

    The writer says “Pakistan is a country which does not like to accommodate difference, and cannot tolerate diversity. Tolerating difference, of any kind, is unknown in Pakistan, and immediately one is labelled as the ‘other.’”

    But why is it like this ? What is the cause of the above ? And what is the cure ?

    In my view – Pakistan cannot abandon the two nation theory. It is the basis of its existence, its raison’d'etre. Bu this theory pre-supposes that peaceful co-existence with the other kind is not possible within the same state.

    Herin lies the dilema – as long as this theory is supreme, intolerence will prevail.

    Would like to get the views of other Pakistanis please – do they also draw a link between the two nation theory as the ideological basis of current intolerance ? Indians please do not respond. And request pakistans not to shoot at me – just asking a question.

    Recommend

  • trueman
    Oct 11, 2011 - 1:42PM

    @Khalid Masood:
    Your comments are good to read but does reflect the facts on the ground. In every islamic country non-muslims are discriminated not only socially but using discriminatory laws. Freedom of religion is only for name sake. Then you have blasphemy laws and numerous attack against minorities.

    Now you discriminate every one else in the name of religion and blatantly float every rule in the book of equality and then expect to be treated equally and with respect in every other country you go.

    After implementing sharia law and expecting a non believer to follow it you call it equality. it makes no sense !

    Now you do all these to the minorities and go to other countries and make hue and cry of discrimination. Complain about long check at migration counter. How do you expect to be respected by people of other faiths and people without any faith after you treat them with total disrespect.

    Recommend

  • ukmuslim
    Oct 11, 2011 - 2:56PM

    people who want to share their religious views with you, almost never want you to share yours with them. and by the way about god, i m with my fellow countrymen narayanamurthy, vasan and antony.

    Recommend

  • Paras Vikmani
    Oct 11, 2011 - 4:41PM

    Author forgot the plight of Ahmadis.

    Recommend

  • Romm
    Oct 11, 2011 - 6:06PM

    @Narayana Murthy

    Hope u have learnt that how open we as a state are. U rightly doubted ET regarding publication of ur comments, because u cant think Indian Newspaper publishing such derogatory remarks even against Pundit Nehru.
    so, u need to clean ur mental mess
    Recommend

  • Irshad Khan
    Oct 11, 2011 - 6:22PM

    This is nothing but culture of hatred and killings which has prevailed in Pakistan and gaining more momentum. Mullahs, Politicians and all hungry of power are responsible for this and they can do a lot to stop it now. Most of the people who talk of brotherhood, peace and humanity very much they in reality are spreading hatred and enmities by their actions, writings and speeches; One can analyse very well.

    Recommend

  • Abbas from the US
    Oct 11, 2011 - 6:47PM

    @narayana murthy:

    I am in agreement with you as far as your assertion that every religion is man made.

    Essentially the belief system that we term as religion was a necessary human creation to bring moral order to society, every Prophet is essentially a reformer trying to create that social requirement with the help of the use of God(s) which is at their best a rewarding Diety and on occaision a destructive force as punishment for transgressions against society.

    However Middle Eastern religions as well as.Hinduism have also acted as reformists for the male population of society at the expense of half of society’s populations by being misogynist in character.

    Recommend

  • Hindu Indian
    Oct 11, 2011 - 8:00PM

    @Sajida:
    So by your logic , all Indians should be upper caste Brahmins or Baniyas, but then i am not and i am alive. Strange isnt it? I think the point which Mr Bangash is trying to highlight is the pain and suffering which a certain community in Pakistan is facing. I think it would be better if you discuss on that and not that “fact” that the oppressors learnt oppressing from Hindus. Still not sure why Hindus have to be brought into everything that goes wrong in Pakistan, dont you guys get bored( for a change at least)

    Recommend

  • narayana murthy
    Oct 11, 2011 - 8:54PM

    @Romm.

    ET is fairly open. However, in the past, they have omitted comments that could be construed as blasphemous.

    But, ET is however an exception. ET does not represent Pakistani society.

    As a society, we all know how open is Pakistan.Recommend

  • narayana murthy
    Oct 11, 2011 - 8:58PM

    @Abbas from the US.

    Yes, some prophets/sages/saints/godmen have reformed societies.

    However, these reformist logic/laws become obsolete over generations. So, by blindly following them, we are regressing.

    Also, reformist is not a prophet in the truest sense. In other words, some prophets are reformists while others are impostors. There are plenty in India.Recommend

  • Homa
    Oct 11, 2011 - 9:23PM

    @Khalid Masood: Why making blood so central to the narrative of islam?

    Recommend

  • MD
    Oct 11, 2011 - 9:28PM

    @Romm, You wrote “Hope u have learnt that how open we as a state are.”
    Shall I laugh or cry at your comment? You are a citizen of a country where a prominent politician was killed, by his own bodyguard, just because he tried to be sympathetic to an helpless, poor Christian women, a mother of five young children. What is more horrific and outrageous is the hoards of not just Mullahs, but, even the so called educated Lawyers rampaging on the streets demanding the murderer’s release. And you have the audacity to call your country an “open state”?
    I am sorry to say this that you know nothing about India, because, we have political parties in India whose membership is not open to the believers i.e the DMK, AIADMK whose minister who are not allowed to take on the name of the God.
    Therefore, I think calling Pakistan an “open state” is correct in case one is describing how openly minorities can be prosecuted in the name of religion.

    Recommend

  • csmann
    Oct 11, 2011 - 11:24PM

    Jamat Ahle Sunnat (JAS) Nazim Aala Allama Syed Riaz Hussain Shah also spoke out against Ahmedis, saying they were “agents of anti-Pakistan forces” and involved in anti-state activities.

    JAS Ameer Syed Mazhar Saeed Kazmi said appointing Ahmedis to key posts was a violation of the Constitution. He demanded that all Ahmedis be expelled from key posts. He said Ahmedis were created by the British.

    Where do ahmadis come in a qadri’s case;but for mullahs,anything has ahmadis behind..Recommend

  • Abbas from the US
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:13AM

    Pakistan may be in contravention of the UN declaration on minority rights.

    Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
    “States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.”
    contrary to the stated UN
    Recommend

  • Observer
    Oct 12, 2011 - 5:20AM

    @Homa:

    “People need to remember that we are first and foremost all human beings, before any of the other external identity labels get added on. “

    Very true. But, Islam teaches one to look at themselves as Muslims first and Muslims last. It also does differentiate between believers vs. non-believers thus promoting the us vs. them dogma. Expanding this further, a natural question of who is a true Muslim arises- Shia, Sunni, Ahmedi, Ismaily, Agha Khai, etc?

    Am I wrong?

    Recommend

  • Observer
    Oct 12, 2011 - 5:30AM

    @Sajida:

    “This is all due to Wahhabism”

    Well, there are a whole lot of Muslims who believe that “Wahabism”, Salafism, Deobandism are the true version of Islam. How can you claim they are wrong? Or, how can you assume “your” version of Islam is alone the purest and correct one?

    Recommend

  • Observer
    Oct 12, 2011 - 5:38AM

    @Khalid Masood:

    Do you maintain that imposing Jizya tax on non-Muslims is equal treatment? Or, do you imply that Islam does not impose Jizya? There are numerous other such examples.

    I am sure you are a good human being, but I would humbly suggest that you do an independent and unbiased research. Stating what you have been taught does not make it the truth.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Oct 12, 2011 - 7:58AM

    @Khalid Masood:
    “Islam seeks to establish such a society where all citizens of the state enjoy equal rights and religion does not become the basis for any discrimination. Islamic law holds both Muslims and non-Muslims equal and no superiority or privilege is given to the Muslims on any ground. The history of Islam is replete with such examples”.

    There are 50_ Muslim majority states. Please mention where non-Muslims do not suffer discrimination. In fact even Shias in Sunni ruled states and Sunnis in Shia ruled states are presecuted. Forget now, can you give any Muslim king, emperor or state in the last 200 years that can meet the criteria stated by you?

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Oct 12, 2011 - 8:04AM

    @Sajida:
    “In India you can get killed if you are a Dalit and carry an empty pail in front of higher caste Hindus!”

    Don’t believe everything Zaid Hamid tells you. 15% of India’s population is Dalit. That comes to 180 million or equal to the population of Pakistan. If so many people were getting killed, the world would know about it.

    You may not know but the Chief Minister of the largest state in India is a Dalit woman – Mayawati. The caste systems is cultural not religious. It has greater impact in North than South and in villages than city. But everywhere it is reducing.

    Recommend

  • vasan
    Oct 12, 2011 - 9:52AM

    Khalid Masood :
    “Islamic law holds both Muslims and non-Muslims equal and no superiority or privilege is given to the Muslims on any ground. ”
    By looking at all the muslim countries with respect to the above stmt. one would conclude that muslims are the least law abiding citizens. That in part explains the status of people in these countries.

    Recommend

  • Oct 12, 2011 - 4:03PM

    Avery enlightening article and very well discussed in the comments. it heartens to see the ET publishes all shades of opinion. It is also encouraging to see that a large number of people of Pakistan understand and condemn the killings and atrocities on minorities.

    Recommend

More in Opinion