The terrible story of the treatment meted out to Prem Chand, a victim of the Airblue plane crash, in the hours after his tragic death is enough to cause each and every one of us to, at the very least, hang our heads in shame. The young man, a member of the youth parliament, had the term ‘kafir’ or ‘infidel’ written out in bold strokes of a marker as it lay at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences awaiting collection by his devastated family. We do not know why the word was put there; indeed why anything at all beyond the name of the victim was written on the casket.
But whatever the reasons the act of cruelly singling out one victim of the crash from others, belies the mindset which has insidiously overtaken more and more people in the country and refuses to allow them to accept the notion that in most aspects of daily life – and indeed in death – religious belief should play no part. Lives after all have equal value; the tears of Prem Chand’s relatives are no different to those of Muslims killed in the disaster, their grief as deep.
There is some slight hope to be gleaned from the actions of other youth parliamentarians who wiped the word off the coffin before the family could see it. The matter was also brought up at the youth parliament session. In the actions of these young people – who have not lost touch with basic humanity and decency – there may be hope for the future. But the problem is that their numbers are limited. Too many in society have learned blind hate. It is not easy to strip them of these feelings – nurtured at schools, at mosques and by sections of the media. Their influence has made life a living hell for most non-Muslims. Since the 1980s thousands of minorities have fled the country. We should think about why a nation created to house a minority has been so unjust to those who live within its boundaries and why this sense of hatred has grown to the proportions we see today. For what its worth, Prem Chand is a far more patriotic Pakistani than those who have tried to label him in this grotesque fashion after his death.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2010.