As August 14 rolls around, Pakistanis will witness yet another independence day steeped in the usual rituals of the nation state: the hoisting of the flag, national day parades, 21-gun salutes, loads of platitudes and clichés in print and the electronic media about the promised day, the struggles of Partition, the sacrifices given and the freedom gained.
As our nation prepares to once again remember itself and reiterate the story of its birth, what is likely to be forgotten is the promise embedded in the new land. That promise was freedom: freedom for each and every one of its citizens — whether men or women, Muslim or non-Muslim, peasant or worker — to live a decent life underscored by all the freedoms and rights that are guaranteed in modern states.
Today, August 11 marks the 63rd anniversary of the vision of the new state presented by MA Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly when he promised a land where people of all religions would be free to go to their respective places of worship, for religion has nothing to do with the business of the state. Yet, today Ahmadis are killed for professing their faith and Christians are murdered after false accusations of blasphemy based on draconian laws.
Pakistan today, radically different from the imagined one, has neither freedom of religion, nor freedom from religion. The citizens have been subjected to a narrow, literalist, fundamentalist and virulent version of imported religion and the views of one small sect are imposed violently on all citizens. We imagined a modern parliamentary democracy and ended up creating a sectarian state, unsafe for anyone but those belonging to the favoured sect.
As a result, our right to life, the most basic of all rights, has virtually ceased to exist. Today, scores of people die every day in bomb blasts, suicide bombings, target killings and drone attacks. This in turn has robbed us of freedom of speech, expression and conscience. Anyone who protests against the policies that deprive people of basic rights is silenced, either by militants spread across our land or by the government clamping down on the media. The right to information is thus also compromised.
Instead of the usual rejoicing, celebration and self-aggrandisement that accompanies national days, it is time to reflect and engage in serious soul-searching about the kind of state we have created. The gulf between the dream and the reality is too wide to be ignored. Today, our life, liberty, property, children and our future are all at stake.
It is time for us to ask the question: whose freedom did we gain? Who attained independence? Did our women and minorities gain equal independence? Did our workers and peasants gain equal independence? Why are there laws today that discriminate between male and female citizens? Why are there laws that divide Muslim and non-Muslim citizens? Where is the security and the prosperity that was to underlie independence? An unequal independence is no independence. Until our women and minorities become equal citizens in every sense of the word, we remain bonded and our freedom is a mere illusion, a slogan to cover up the chains on our minds and bodies.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.