No country for the faithless

Pakistan has never been a friendly place for minorities, particularly the Hindus.

Saroop Ijaz November 20, 2011

The murder of doctors belonging to the Hindu faith in Sindh has evoked considerable protest and condemnation. It is of some comfort that we have not been completely desensitised to murder. However, the patronising standard denunciation that follows after any attack on ‘minorities’ is not proving effective in putting an end to wanton criminality against them. To torture a cliché, we just might be treating the symptoms instead of the causes, if at all we are attempting to treat anything. Many of the leaders who feigned horror and disbelief at the persecution of our brethren from the ‘minorities’, then went on television to also express their unflinching opposition to the granting of MFN (Most-Favoured Nation) status to India since they considered it to be a capitulation before the ‘Hindus’ and how it negates the two-nation theory and so on and so forth. Some might argue that these are two independent events and should be looked at as such, except that they are not. The mistrust of the non-Muslims in Pakistan is clearly and directly rooted in the two-nation theory, especially since the theory presupposed a ‘Muslim Pakistan’ and a ‘Hindu India’. On the slightest bit of inspection this is found out to be fantastically simplistic and generalist since, as we know all too well, there is no monolith Muslim community in Pakistan.

It is fascinating to see that ordinarily clear-headed, opinionated and vocal public intellectuals start to mumble jumble and use intelligible jargon when asked for an opinion on the two-nation theory. I am not referring to serious academic work here, where the freedom on the matter is slightly more, but of our national conversation. Similarly, whereas many would imply almost none would say it, that Mr Jinnah was a politician who did change positions on issues (as a politician is expected to) and in the process might have made decisions which are not capable of being imported wholesale into another era. I have suspicion that they consider it unpatriotic or at best impolite to critically examine the foundational basis of this country. It is also easy to regard him as a patron saint and ascribe timeless wisdom to him as it saves us the trouble of thinking for ourselves. The consequence of this misplaced deference is the often ridiculous backward reasoning, where everyone scrambles to dig up a Jinnah quote to substantiate their positions. This has also do with our culture of paranoia. Let me assure you even if the two-nation theory is revisited, revised or even found completely fallacious, it would not in any way affect the integrity of this country. Although it would, in my opinion, necessitate the formation of a new social contract amongst the people of Pakistan.

Pakistan has never been a friendly place for minorities, particularly the Hindus. Anyone who has studied Pakistan Studies in school can relate to the venomous indoctrination against them. Most of us do not believe or at least outgrow the nonsense; at least I hope that we do. Yet, the basis of confusing ‘India’ and ‘Hindu’ is laid down at a very early stage under the garb of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’.  I do not claim or pretend to know what it is like being a ‘Hindu’ in Pakistan. However, if I were to hazard a guess, it must not be fun.  Living in a country where the Constitution proclaims that “Sovereignty rests with Allah” is asking for intellectual dishonesty from them from the get go. The particular example while being legally redundant does set the tone and tenure for our public discourse. We have probably the most religious constitution in the world, the very few that are more religiously inclined than us do not bother with temporal, western concepts such as constitution or even democracy. We did not stop at the religious but workable “one nation under God”, we had to clarify that it is our God and not yours.

When the Babri Mosque was attacked and vandalised in the 1990s, the response in Pakistan was the diabolical measure of attacking the Hindu temples in Pakistan and then reprisal against Muslims in India. It does indicate that, at some level, hawks on both sides perceive this to be a conflict of faiths and not a matter purely belonging to the realm of foreign policy. The rise of Islamophobia in the world has amongst others one distinctly dangerous side effect. The fact that Muslims are being targeted in the world and often unjustly, does not give us the licence to be hatefully racist or sectarian. During the early stage of jury selection in her trial, Dr Aafia Siddiqui apparently remarked that she does not believe that a Jew could be unbiased and fair in the matter. What an incredibly ignorant and odious thing to say. Yet, it slipped under the radar of our public and media, who overtaken by their sympathy for the good doctor had given her free pass to say something as lurid as that.

Azfar Nafisi in her book, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), when writing about living as a woman in the religious state of Iran, says it was like compelling oneself to make love to someone, who you hate and who hates you in return. This is how ‘minorities’probably feel in Pakistan. The legal system, the public at large and the media day in and day out boisterously parade the loathing that they have for people of other faiths.  The term ‘minorities’is an example of institutionalised haughtiness, since it is exclusively used to refer to people not of Muslim faith living in Pakistan. There are supposed to be no minorities in a one-man, one-vote republic. The perpetrators of violence against the Hindu doctors should be brought to justice, but equally significantly the culture of discrimination needs to be questioned and addressed. Let us have enough faith in Pakistan and our civilisation so as not to believe that all of it is fragile enough to be solely predicated upon one political strategy employed more than six decades ago and have the long overdue conversation on the two-nation theory.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2011.


Qamar | 10 years ago | Reply

Hats off to the writer! As an non-muslim, only minorities can understand the pain of other minorities! Pakistan muslims will never understand our pain, as long as Pakistan remains a theocracy or islamic country and if the mindset of Pakistani muslim doesn't change, there is no hope for freedom of Pakistani minorities! pakistani muslims must stop thinking that being islamic is the best way of life and Islam is superior to other religions! Pakistan is indeed a big mistake!

shafi Ahmed | 10 years ago | Reply

Article is thought provoking,pakistani's must introspect about their behaviour towards minorities especially their institutions.india is a secular nation n whole world knows that,yes there is discrimination against muslims thats y v r economically backward section in India but there is no institutional discrimination against muslims in india.

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