Group captain (retd) Cecil Chaudhry, 70, who died in Lahore on April 13 after battling lung cancer for over a year, was a man of many dimensions: war hero, educationist, human rights activist and social worker. He stood out as a man who cared deeply for his country and its people. The treatment he received in return for this from the military exposes a great deal about our country, and the distortions that exist within it.
Many of those who served with Chaudhry in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) or knew him in other capacities, believed he could have risen to the very top of the Force; this was not to be. Despite the fact that Chaudhry — as a dashing young fighter pilot — had won the Tamgha-e-Jurat and the Tamgha-e-Basalat for his heroics in the 1965 and 1971 wars, he was informed in 1983 that he could be promoted no further, given his religion. In 1985, he sought a release from the service he loved.
During interviews given after this, he spoke bitterly of the discrimination against minority religious groups in the country, and of how this had first taken root under General Ayub Khan in the 1950s and then grown under General Zia in the armed forces. The manner in which he was treated by the PAF — after serving it with such extraordinary valour whilst almost losing his life in the process in 1971 — was an invisible scar he carried with him for the remainder of his life. But this unhealed wound did not prevent Chaudhry from serving his nation in other capacities. As a highly respected principal of St Anthony’s School in Lahore where he had himself been educated, as a council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as an articulate spokesperson for minorities and as an advocate for the rights of disabled children, Cecil Chaudhry proved himself a hero in more ways than one. He showed through the example he set that patriotism and belief are not linked despite a widespread notion to the contrary held by many in the country as a result of warped thinking and distorted policies that over the years served to indoctrinate ordinary people.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2012.