Why Pakistan must build the Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad
The recent fiasco surrounding the construction of Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad has once again highlighted the fault lines that have hamstrung Pakistan for decades. What was expected to be a symbol of religious tolerance and pluralism, has quickly turned into an ugly display of bigotry and narrow-mindedness. The current government, in its first two years in the office, had demonstrated an inclination to right the historical wrongs committed against Pakistan’s religious minorities.
Specifically, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, restoration of Hindu temples in Pakistan, and the government’s decision to crackdown on fundamentalist protests in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Asia Bibi case verdict suggested that there is an honest desire to gradually but decisively reorient Pakistan. For the time being however, it seems that the government’s handling of the Krishna Mandir quandary will be central to determining the success of its pro-minority agenda.
First and foremost it is important to understand and highlight the unique nature of the relationship between Pakistan and its Hindu citizens. The Hindus of Pakistan are peerless in their loyalty to their homeland. Over seventy years ago, their forefathers made a conscious decision to stay in the newly-founded country, when hundreds of thousands were migrating to Hindu majority India. These were the people whose reverence for the land where their forefathers had lived and died trumped any fears of persecution. Even today, Pakistan’s Hindu citizens do not define their allegiance to the country through religion, but purely through their unconditional love for the land that countless generations have called home.
More importantly, it is not just the Hindu community of Islamabad but in fact the entire state of Pakistan that will benefit from the construction of Krishna Mandir in the capital. The very foundations of Pakistan lay in the desire of a religious minority to escape persecution and create a homeland where they would not face social, political or economic discrimination. It is indeed a cruel irony that minorities in Pakistan today face the kind of discrimination that Pakistan was created to abolish. In his oft-quoted 11th August 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly, Quaid-e-Azam himself had promised the minorities of Pakistan their right to freedom of worship:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
The purpose of Pakistan’s creation therefore will remain unfulfilled, and the vision of its founding fathers incomplete, until the constitutional rights of the country’s minorities are safeguarded.
Mistreatment of minorities also damages Pakistan’s international image, as evidenced by the USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) yearly reports that have regularly placed Pakistan in the CPC (Country of Particular Concern) category. Moreover, it significantly dents Pakistan’s credibility when advocating before the world community for the rights of Muslim minorities in India, Myanmar and Palestine. After all, how different are the fundamentalists who tore down the partially constructed boundary wall around Krishna Mandir’s land, from the Hindutva infected goons of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) who demolished the Babri Masjid?
If Pakistan fails to punish the perpetrators of hate crimes against religious minorities within its own borders, what moral standing does the country have to impel other states to take action? Bringing to justice the fundamentalists who oppress religious minorities will not only improve Pakistan’s global standing, it will also lend credence to the country’s stance when championing the rights of Muslim minorities across the world.
Above all, the most important reason why the government must stand up for Pakistan’s religious minorities is because it is the right thing to do. It is the constitutional, moral and even religious responsibility of the government to safeguard the rights of the country’s non-Muslim citizens. The dreams of ‘Do Nahi Aik Pakistan’ and Naya Pakistan will not be realised until the seven million Pakistani non-Muslims are treated as equal citizens and stakeholders of their country.
Discernible improvements in mindsets and attitudes will take several years and require wide ranging reforms, but the process must start somewhere. Construction of a Mandir in Islamabad can prove to be a seminal moment; it will signal a clear change in the government’s policy vis-a-vis the country’s non-Muslim citizens and will also send an unequivocal message that the state will no longer cede space to regressive forces.