It is true that the state is the legitimate possessor of power, and therefore has an inherent licence to exercise it fairly both locally and globally but it does not always stand true to its job description. ‘The greatest crime since World War II has been the US foreign policy’. The words of former US attorney general points to the abuse of that power, and the presence of global institutions like the United Nations do little to establish peace and harmony in the face of such aggressive transnational advances of the powerful on the powerless. Perhaps this is a gloomy portrayal, but it gets gloomier when such power differentials and the fetish to flex them trickle down to the masses of a soft state like Pakistan. A large chunk of the country’s population has always been very vocal about its distaste for the West’s exercise of these power differentials globally to oppress marginalised countries like Palestine and Iraq, as well as India’s local transgressions against the Kashmiris and other Indian Muslims. But, sadly we have forgotten about our own dirty hands with which we are conveniently pointing fingers at countries like India, Israel and the US.
Ashamedly, we belong to a society where marginalised groups are violated every step of the way; where every second woman suffers from some kind of domestic violence (Aga Khan University’s Report), where you hardly see a ramp or special toilets for wheelchair-bound citizens, where hundreds of innocent children are gang-raped and their videos are flushed into pornographic stream, where a wounded transgender activist named Alisha dies waiting for some medical treatment, while the hospital staff fumbles for an hour in their indecision to admit Alisha in a male or a female ward, and where things get dire when religious minorities are taken into account.
Last month, an advertisement for the job of sweeper came under fire, which stated that applicants must either be “Shia, Hindu/Balmikis or Christians”. Even the jobs for sewage cleaning are mostly attributed to Christians, which inspires a commonly used neologism for them ‘chura’, meaning ‘filthy’. Our society is lined with such transgressions, and they become even more monstrous when such power is exercised through the most repeated notions of popular culture, ie, freedom of speech and intolerance. Ironically, both freedom of speech and intolerance are, by and large, privileges of the powerful. While the powerful can abuse this freedom by spewing hatred and mockery against the marginalised religious groups as much as they want, but simultaneously they are intolerant to even the most basic religious expressions that go against their own beliefs.
Members of the Ahmadiyya community have mostly been at the receiving end of hostility; being punished merely for their beliefs. On 28th May 2010, two Ahmadiyya worship places were attacked resulting in more than 90 casualties and 108 injuries, but the barbarism didn’t stop there because three days later militants assaulted their way into the intensive care unit where those victims were being treated. Even in the current month, three Ahmadis are reported to have been killed for religious motives. Therefore, results of a study conducted at the Pew Research Centre do not come as a surprise, as they crowned Pakistan to be the 10th most religiously hostile country of the world in 2015.
This increasing mob mentality which is reflected in the persecution of religious minorities and the recent lynching of Mashal Khan isn’t really about heeding to some sort of divine calling, in fact it is about legitimising that power fetish via religion.
Still, such an in-house sorry state of affairs did not dissuade this nation from lashing out at someone like Sonu Nigam, who put up a democratically reasonable demand in not so reasonable words to stop this ‘forced religiousness’ of reciting morning Azaan on loudspeakers. Given the current level of intolerance, I simply wonder that how we would react to waking up in the morning from bhajans being blasted on loudspeakers. Although, there is absolutely nothing wrong in practising freedom of speech, but what needs to be comprehended is that there are limits to the exercise of this freedom because ‘your space ends when mine starts’.
On 11th August 1947, while addressing the nation, Jinnah said that ‘You are free, you are free to go to your temples, and you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan’. No points for figuring out that we are miles away from the fulfilment of the promise made by the founder of this nation, and that there is a desperate need to radically alter our mindset of exercising power on those who are easier to suppress.
With the masses struggling to grasp reason and reasonability, and the country wobbling towards anarchy, it is paramount that the state take the reins to check the exercise of these illicit and immoral power differentials by providing legal and institutional cover to the relatively powerless groups of the society.
Otherwise it will not be long before we reach a state where having the power and the licence to exercise it becomes all but the same thing. Our house is on fire, so instead of complaining about the smoke coming from the West or India, focus should be set on setting our own place in order.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2017.