Emergencies are a time when the best of man – and the very worst – comes out into the open. In southern Punjab, where leaders of the Ahmadi community say relief goods or a place in camps was denied to flood victims from their faith, the worst has been on display. The treatment of Ahmadis as sub-human is a consequence of years of discrimination stemming from that fateful decision in the 1970s to declare them ‘non-Muslim’. The result of the state’s decision to determine what belief people practice, regardless of their own assertions, has been catastrophic. The massacre of Ahmadis we saw earlier this year in Lahore is one outcome of this. The increasingly vicious campaigns they have faced have obviously had an influence on poisoning minds and influencing the kind of disgraceful behaviour we have seen following the floods.
But sadly, this is not the only example of such conduct. Humanitarian workers out in the field report many examples of bias. In some cases aid has been denied to those from specific castes or clans; in other instances the weakest and most vulnerable have been pushed aside. Christians in the Punjab are reported to have complained about discrimination and it is possible other minority communities have faced similar experiences. While most international and all UN organisations are bound by their own charter to ensure equitable distribution of aid, and usually attempt to follow them, local organisations may not have rules that are as stringent. Some reports already speak of groups affiliated to religious parties being behind some of the worst acts of deprivation on the basis of belief.
So, what does this say about us as a people? As a society? Do we even deserve the distinction of calling ourselves civilised human beings? It is true that the government for now has a lot on its plate. But despite this, an effort must be made to investigate the incidents in Muzaffargarh and elsewhere. It seems obvious they could not have taken place without the connivance of local authorities, who must be made to answer for their acts.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2010.
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