KARACHI: When youngsters at a conference were asked about the single characteristic that has united 180 million Pakistanis, they predictably credited religion. Others ventured language and culture.
Tauseef Razi Mallick, however, presented them with a fourth option, one that he would have gone by had this been a multiple choice question. It is humanity that binds us, said the social activist, before embarking on a discussion about the “failure of religion” to keep Pakistanis united during the last 60 years.
Mallick was speaking at the fifth annual conference organised by a nongovernmental organisation, Kumak, at the Pakistan Medical Association on Tuesday. The theme of the conference was, predictably, tolerance.
“Every religion in the world offers the same teachings and guidelines when it comes to the concept of humanity,” said Mallick, who is also a part of the NGO.
KUMAK markets itself as “a youth organisation” that strives to bring socioeconomic change in the country “through mass literacy, enhanced quality of education [and] improved healthcare”. The organisation wants to create a uniform education system in the country, as it “believes that the disparity that exists in [the society] has its root in the discriminatory education system” of the country.
KUMAK founding member Ahsan Raza Firdousi told The Express Tribune that they chose the theme of tolerance for this conference as they felt that it is something that the Pakistani society desperately needs right now.
“[It appears that] tolerance has disappeared from [our] society, and no one is ready to listen to others, whether it is regarding a religious matter, or a political or ethnic [issue].” He also accused political and religious parties in the country of using “hate” to further their ambitions.
Narjis Fatima, a Karachi University (KU) student, spoke about the level of tolerance that students like her have to use every day to not get trapped in any unpleasant incident. She then played a video in which her fellow students were seen promoting sectarian harmony between members of the Shia and Sunni sects. A team activity was also conducted in which participants were given various hypothetical scenarios, and were then asked about the way they would deal with them in a calm manner.
As the session continued, Emadul Hasan, a lawyer, advised the participants about the different authorities to whom they can report a criminal incident. Apart from the police, the Citizen Police Liaison Committee, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Amnesty International can also be informed about any incident that violates the Pakistan Penal Code or the Criminal Procedure Code.
However, Hasan admitted that laws alone cannot eliminate intolerance from the society. Awareness of individual and collective rights is also necessary, as is a fair societal system. “If you hang a criminal, two others will start committing crimes because we live in a society where people are frustrated of disparities,” he said.
One of the sessions at the conference was reserved for the problems faced by religious minorities in the country. Representatives of the Christian and Hindu communities shared their experiences with youngsters who were present on the occasion. Providing a historical context to the current situation, Dr Sabir Michael, an assistant professor at KU’s sociology department, linked the increasing plight of religious minorities in the country to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from 1979.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2012.