Welcoming Pakistanis

It is only when all of us South Asians speak up that the change will begin.

Jyoti Malhotra March 17, 2013
The writer is a consultant based in New Delhi, where she writes for Business Standard and blogs for The Times of India

Yaqoob Khan Bangash, the chair of the history department at Forman Christian College in Lahore, is a brave man, his anguish written in every word of his piece just published in this newspaper, telling all minorities to leave Pakistan. So, here is something that I have contemplated for some time: if Pakistan’s minorities — whether Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Ahmadi, Shia, Deobandi, Dalit, gay, straight or female — want to leave Pakistan and don’t know where to go, well, they must be welcome in India.

Does that comment make me an intelligence agent, in the pay of India’s RAW or some other outfit? Does it constitute a breach of faith, an anticipated violation of a visitor’s visa to one of the most beautiful places on earth and some of the best friends I will ever have? Is this interference in the internal affairs of another country?

I suppose in a relationship that is always so tense as that between India and Pakistan, all you readers would be entitled to invoke any of the above. And I would reject each one of your arguments because I believe that millions of Pakistanis need to be supported for believing that Pakistan must become a moderate, secular nation. Mr Bangash has been brave about going public with regard to the creation of Pakistan, especially because as a historian, he is familiar with the whys and wherefores of the past.

There are those in India, who say even now that if Jawaharlal Nehru had abdicated the throne in favour of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Partition might have been avoided. Frankly, in the light of all that we know now, I doubt that very much. If Partition had been delayed by another few years, it may have been messier than it actually was.

But it is the present with which both our sides are concerned. The Shia massacres in Quetta and the mob rampage of the Christian colony in Lahore are a wake-up call to us in India, not because anti-Dalit fury, in the case of the Lahore Christians is surprising, but because caste has clearly much deeper roots than religion. Of course, sociologists know this well, but to the rest of us mortals, the experiment that is Pakistan is also so interesting because it seeks to throw people of various denominations under one flag, that of an Islamic republic. It is said that one of the reasons that Shia Hazaras in Balochistan are being massacred is because it will be the Shia Hazaras of Afghanistan who will stand in the way of a triumphal Taliban — supported by the Pakistani Army — that will march towards Kabul post-US withdrawal in 2014.

Perhaps, this is all poppycock. So, we look towards Pakistanis for enlightenment, not only to understand why Shias are being especially chosen as targets, but also because their killings have a huge impact on India’s Muslims. The truth is that when Shias are plucked off, it has an impact in Srinagar and Lucknow and Sitapur and countless other Indian towns and villages.

To return to my earlier argument: the Indian government should offer a homecoming-of-sorts to all Pakistanis of all shades of opinion, religion and denomination, especially if they are persecuted in their own country. We offer it to Sri Lankan Tamils, to Myanmarese, to the Bangladeshis, to Maldivians, to Afghans, so why not Pakistanis?

My claim to being critical about what’s going in Pakistan today is because of my claim to several identities, including a minority one. (After all, many more women are killed in India at all stages of their lives because they are female, than in Pakistan.) It is only when all of us South Asians — Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Bhutanese, Maldivians, et al — feel they must reorder the region in the name of both God and justice and speak up, just like Mr Bangash, that the change will begin. We must be the change we want to see.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2013.


Karima | 9 years ago | Reply

Its extremely unfortunate that such a simple and rather humane suggestion receives such negative comments. It makes me wonder why we aren't ready for this grand gesture and that why after so many decades us Pakistani's cant appreciate the help we most certainly need. Even if our ego's or our love for our country doesn't permit us to cross the border that has for our entire lives defined us, why can we not simply appreciate this!

While it makes me super happy that there people like you who can think beyond these physical boundaries and cultural differences, Jyoti, from the comments above, I think its safe to say, practically speaking we are STILL not ready for this: neither do the Pakistani's deserve this act of kindness and nor are the Indians ready to move on.

PiS | 10 years ago | Reply

As much I appreciate the matter-of-fact opinions of Indians (even though a lot of time it's painting millions of people with the same brush), I don't know anyone in Pakistan who is willing to migrate to India. The "welcoming" attitude of Indians on this forum aside! :) One factor that people overlook about the root of violence in Pakistan is the concept of ownership of this land in her people. It's a unplanned consequence of our education system and the "brainwashing" that Indians like to call it. I don't entirely disagree but it's somewhat of a silver lining for us. Frustrating at times because our longing never ends no matter where we live. But that's one reason west Pakistan is still a single entity even with the unimaginable turmoil that the country has been going through. Just like Indians would not like to move to Pakistan, Pakistanis feel the same way. And frankly people who do end up migrating mostly prefer Europe and America because of easier social integration and opportunities.

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