Minorities in Pakistan: Living a marginalised reality
I've found the reaction to Pakistan’s current blasphemy laws surprising. Not because I think the whole Aasia Bibi (and more recently Naushad Valiyani) issue has been blown out of proportion but because of how long it has taken Pakistan to acknowledge the malicious nature of the blasphemy laws. I feel that our nation’s reaction is luke warm – one that has flourished just so most of us can sleep at night feeling good about ourselves as genuine 'online philanthropists'.
These blasphemy laws have existed in Pakistan as long as I can remember. They are a product of what General Ziaul Haq and then our champion of democracy, Mr Nawaz Sharif brought about and legalized. Where were Pakistanis when this was happening? It's all well and good when a person uses Facebook or Twitter as a tool to spread their opinion across the globe but how many of us have actually gone out and tried to aid Aasia Bibi or any minority member for that matter?
The newspapers and TV shows have found a sensitive topic to debate on. They have found the necessary artillery to berate guests on their shows and enough controversy to have the general public glued to their seats and empty their wallets to listen to the media. But what has ever become of it? Images of the eight Christians being burnt alive on the streets of Gojra still burn my eyes. When something as radical as that can go unnoticed by the local authorities why would we minorities want to believe that they could do otherwise? And all the while the media tries to cloak the situation with ‘non anti-relegious’ view.
Were we not all one when Pakistan was being formed?
One must remember the basic driving force behind the whole independence movement of the 1920s was to ensure that minorities got their due share in the sub-continent. Were not our founding fathers worried about the possibility that minorities such as Muslims were going to be disadvantaged and oppressed if they remained in India? And so we had the struggle for independence and the Radcliffe Award where many non-Muslim ‘minority’ leaders opted for Pakistan – they thought they were securing their rights, citizen status and a better life overall.
Sadly, wherever the road might have led, the fact is that the hope of the government facilitating better lives for the minorities was soon drowned amid the misery and sham of the Objectives Resolution. A document which conflictingly claimed that all members of society were equal and that minority communities would be given special allowances to survive in Pakistan. So much for living as First Class citizens. Now minorities have special seats reserved for them in the Senate and a Minorities Minister who everyone does their best to ignore. We have the whole slum community, who are labeled ‘Christians’ just because of their social standing, dedicated to cleaning the houses of the more fortunate. So I ask you, why should minorities expect anything better from Pakistan?
Growing up in a privileged home certainly had benefits that go beyond the realm of what’s served on the dinner table. My family’s social stature demanded that we be treated with respect wherever we went and as I attended very good academic institutions, I have never been the victim of religious discrimination. Growing up in a privileged home certainly had benefits that go beyond the realm of what’s served on the dinner table. However, since I have stepped into a more diverse environment, like university, I have come across people are less accepting. They may simply refuse to shake hands or offer a simple greeting such as 'Merry Christmas' on the basis of religion.
Being raised in fear
From the very beginning, our parents have emphasized not letting our tongue slip in public when it comes to religion and to making sure that we don’t give anyone a reason to pin the blasphemy laws against us. We’ve been made aware of the importance of not making enemies with anyone or pursuing an activity where the other person might be vindictive enough to pull out these charges against us. After all, it’s not as if we get a fair chance at the hearing (if any) that follows. We’ve been brought up in an environment of fear where we are supposed to always keep an eye over our shoulders for our safety. For most, it’s like living in constant fear, waiting for air raid sirens to go off.
Beware the blasphemy laws
Cases have always been quoted to us about how people have used the blasphemy as a weapon to take over a non-Muslim’s business, household, property and sometimes even to harass and rape their women. It’s a fail-safe method to get away with anything you do to a minority. The local population will riot and demand for blood and the police and courts will be only too happy to oblige booking their passage to Heaven by doing what has been demanded of them by our less than literate scholars. They serve as a reason for minorities to keep their mouths shut and evade public exposure as much as possible. One only needs to pick up a minority journal to realize just how many incidents of religious persecution are taking place and going unnoticed (or kept in the dark) in Pakistan.
Where was the support before today?
So when NGOs and Pakistanis raise their voices in support of Aasia Bibi and Naushad Valiyani against their prosecutors, I cannot help but not take them seriously. To me, this support is more about making themselves feel good about themselves as opposed to actually helping the minority cause. After all, Aasia Bibi isn’t the only recent victim of the blasphemy. Rahid and Sajjid Emmanuel died before her and Gojra was already burning. Shanti Nagar had already become a desolate wasteland and us minorities had already been cheated out of our basic rights - rights promised to us before the new age Pakistanis ever came calling.
We are a great nation indeed,
If only we can pull sheets over
Everything that’s wrong with us
And evade the gaze of the Almighty
This is the country I was born in,
I’m destined to spend my life here.
Long live Pakistan!