The white part of our flag

Published: December 8, 2013

It is only a strip on the side but a visible one against the much larger green part of the flag. But it is almost invisible in our cities. In terms of percentages, the Muslim majority is nearly 96.28 per cent, while in the rest of the 3.72 per cent, we have 1.59 per cent Christians; 1.85 caste Hindus and 0.33 scheduled castes; 0.35 Ahmadis;0.01 Sikhs and 0.03 others, which includes Parsis, Bahais and others. But it is not my or other scholars’ papers which will tell you just what life is like for the minorities in Pakistan. So, you need not read my article entitled “Pakistan’s policies and practices towards the religious minorities” published in South Asian History and Culture (3:2: 302-315) in 2012. Instead, please read A White Trail by Haroon Khalid, published by Westland Ltd in 2013. It is a first person narrative. The author visits the religious minorities and talks to them. He describes their lives — the festivals, the traumas, the troubles and the joys — and in the end, you understand what it is like to be a member of a minority in Pakistan better than you would after reading boring, fact-filled articles by writers like myself. This is ethnography at its best and it does present you the inner lives; the consciousness of the minorities in intimate detail.

Haroon begins with the traumatic scene of a small boy running into the house of a Hindu woman in Multan to tell her that an armed mob, enraged by the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India, is coming to kill her family. They run helter-skelter for dear life though they had nothing to do with the demolition of the mosque — indeed, they had never heard of it till that fateful day. But such is the fate of minorities on both sides of the border and one can imagine Muslim families waiting with bated breaths as mobs approached to hunt them out in the carnage in Gujarat. And Sikh families in a similar predicament after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in Delhi. But then, with artistic dexterity, Haroon plants us right in the middle of flaming colours, the celebrations of Diwali and Holi by the same woman. The good news is that till 2010, these were not celebrated openly but now the author witnesses and describes the celebrations in Multan. These are not attended by most Muslims but, at the personal level, there are attempts by tolerant people to share one another’s celebrations. Most of us do not know the immense cultural wealth of Pakistan till we have read about it or seen it personally. There are the celebrations of the Navratri (nine nights) in Bahawalnagar in which nine virgin girls become incarnations of Durga Mata and are treated like goddesses during that period. There are other events too but the long shadow of officiallyinspired intolerance haunts them. When the news of a murder to avenge an imagined blasphemy comes to the minorities, they cringe, waiting for the frenzied mobs to descend upon them like the wolf on the fold.

But life goes on and the author moves to the Christian community. For the Christians, discrimination comes in many forms, one of them so appalling that it may not be credible to some of us. Did you know, for instance, that there are restaurants which do not serve Christians in the same utensils as Muslims? I did not know that so, it is never too late to learn. But I am sure you do know that many Christians have been accused of blasphemy only on personal or property disputes or small misunderstandings. Bishop John Joseph shot himself dead leaving a note behind saying that he had committed suicide to protest against the framing of blasphemy charges against one Ayub Masih, who had been falsely accused because of a property dispute. The bishop thought this would change the law so that the innocent are not accused wrongly but our people have been made so hysterical about it that nothing did happen; nothing could happen.

The book introduces us to the depleted Parsi community of Lahore, which has no priest anymore, so if they want a traditional marriage, they have to go to Karachi or fly the priest to the city. Death is even more problematic since Parsis offer their dead bodies as charity to birds and animals, but here in Lahore, the facility does not exist, forcing them to bury the dead. The Sikh community seems to be the one which the state protects more than all others. The state has patronised them since the Khalistan movement against Indian rule in the 1980s. The celebrations of Guru Nanak’s birthday and Vaisakh are highly interesting in this section also. But even here, there is the inevitable undertone of discrimination by the majority (in utensils of all things!) and the Damocles sword of laws, which may be abused and fanatics who kill outside the law. There are also snippets of the Bahais and the Ahmadis. The latter community opted for Pakistan. Are any further comments needed?

So, how is it different in India for Muslims? This is not a question which Haroon has tackled but let me do so because it is so relevant. First, there are far more Muslims in India and some are in high posts compared with minority people in Pakistan. Secondly, the law in India is not discriminatory against Muslims, while in Pakistan, some discrimination is built into the law itself. Thirdly, there is no law which the public is so emotional about that it is abused as often as our blasphemy laws are. And, lastly, the liberal-humanist lobby and the courts are not cowed down as much in matters of religion as ours are now. So, in short, our minorities are worse off than the Muslims of India at present. But then there is the RSS and the possibility of one of their leaders capturing power. With extremism rising, the state of affairs is not better in Pakistan either. So, will the white part of our flag survive? With honour?

Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (47)

  • Babloo
    Dec 8, 2013 - 10:33PM

    Sir, that’s a gross under-statement. What would you have said if from 9% in 1947, muslims were reduced to 1% of population in India today ( instead of the 14% they are today ) ? You would have called it genocide.
    Now consider what happened to HIndus and Sikhs in W Pakistan. From 22% of population in 1947 they are reduced to about 1% today. You may attribute that discriminatory laws, mass expulsions, forced conversions and killings. There are almost no parallels in the world history to it.


  • Ejaaz
    Dec 8, 2013 - 10:39PM

    Tariq Sahib,
    what fraction of the flag is white?
    what fraction of the people represented the white part in 1948?
    what fraction of the people represent the white part in 2014?
    Is that not an answer to your concluding question?


  • lol
    Dec 8, 2013 - 10:40PM

    u talk about ur white flag and drag india into discussion….. completely off track…. there’s a reason there’s an army of indian trolls here…. and it is this :) \m/


  • jatin
    Dec 8, 2013 - 11:06PM

    Respect. ..


  • Major Iqbal
    Dec 8, 2013 - 11:08PM

    “Our minori­ties are worse off than the Muslim­s of India at presen­t.”

    Not just Pakistan’s minorities, my dear Sir. But even Pakistan’s Muslims are worse off than the Muslims of India.


  • Lal Din Merrasi
    Dec 8, 2013 - 11:09PM

    Right above this article is a tale of atrocities committed against poor Ahmedi community. I never considered them a religious minority but then who am I? Dr. Sahib, please also do not forget that it is the white part where the mast is. You know the joke. I am just an illiterate kammi Kamin.


  • F
    Dec 8, 2013 - 11:22PM

    Pakistan can do the right thing – without any comparison with (much hated) India. It can stop the bigotry and religious supremacy so deeply entrenched in its constitution and everyday attitudes. But first, it must want to. It doesn’t.


  • ravi
    Dec 8, 2013 - 11:28PM

    The doctor author seems to start n end the article with fault finding in India.

    Pakistan was formd for muslins by muslims but has bcome nightmare for muslims.

    Whereas in India people of all faith are free to practice their religion, muslims included.

    Minorities in india are well off n growing.


  • Gratgy
    Dec 8, 2013 - 11:45PM

    The white part of the flag now represents ‘Surrender’

    Surrender of territory to taliban
    Surrender of religion to Saudi Arabia
    Surrender of markets to China
    Surrender of economy to IMF
    Surrender of airspace to US


  • faizaan
    Dec 9, 2013 - 12:21AM

    Here 95% of the 96.28% have no rights, you are talking about the 3.72%!!


  • Hella
    Dec 9, 2013 - 12:37AM

    Not only minorities in Pakistan, even Muslims of Pakistan are worse of then the Muslims of India. In Pakistan, the word minorities will be increasingly applied to Shias, Ismailis, Ahmedis and even Barelvis, because all non-Muslim minorities are now firmly on the way to extinction. So the white in the Pakistani flag will always be relevant, as new groups of minorities are created. You flatter/deceive yourself by bringing in India into the comparison. Despite communal riots, where both Hindus and Muslims are killed, minority numbers in India are on the rise. The only way Pakistan can match India in minority numbers is by creating new minorities to replace the extinct ones.


  • Parvez
    Dec 9, 2013 - 12:55AM

    Delicate subject nicely handled. Today in Pakistan the minority are of no significance, they are just used as an excuse to create trouble towards a political or selfish end.
    The massive religious intolerance amongst Muslims is something that is not sustainable. When one hears that ‘ Pakistan was born in the name of religion……and will die in the name of religion ‘, it forces one to ask that are the people who encourage this madness, true and loyal to the State.


  • Mohd tarekh
    Dec 9, 2013 - 1:08AM

    Why have u bring India is the debate…India is not a hindu country…we are jains/sikhs/parsis/hindus/muslim/Isai…but u will only say muslims were killed….u will never say that Indians were killed..Its India internal matter….whoever India kills or whoever lives…we have never talked about pakistan hindus and sikhs or I may say even muslims killing muslims in pakistan………The fact is that babri and gujarat massacre occurs daily in pakistan with christian and other community…but u will only see India as communal…as name of pakistan is pureland…u must see the story not from your faith but from the eyes of a nuetral mankind….Religion is made by man and not a religion makes man…hope u publish my comments as I am a Indian Muslim too..I know this country better than anyone else..and pakistani people unless being told a true history as well as geography will not come to know about this 7500 years old civilisation..I am a proud aryan
    Hope u dont delete or edit my comments as In India we people are free to go/do whatever we like..
    Thanks and regards
    Mohd trekh Indian


  • Arindom
    Dec 9, 2013 - 1:47AM

    Yours is a Islamic country, fast becoming Taliban country. Injustice against minorities are AS PER LAW there. How can you compare with India which is by Law Secular. Injustice against minorities are AGAINST the Law here. Period.


  • amir kahn
    Dec 9, 2013 - 2:02AM

    Good comparisons. Perhaps you should research and call a spade a spade on these topics.

    Indian Muslims Vs MQM the Indian Muslims who opted for Pakistan
    Indian Muslims journalists Vs Pakistani Muslim journalists ( I bet Pakistan will win here)
    Indian Muslim actors Vs Pakistani Actors

    Indian Muslims Vs Pakistani Muslims.

    You can classify the groups, denominations

    Indian poor Muslims Vs Pakistani Poor Muslims.

    Indian Muslim Mullahs Vs Pakistani Muslims mullahs
    Indian Muslim Politicians Vs Pakistani Muslim politicians

    Articles on these may lead to respecting each other and thus peace could become a reality.




  • Iqbal
    Dec 9, 2013 - 2:52AM

    So, in short, our minorities are worse off than the Muslims of India at present.
    Dr Rahman, I disagree with your observation. In the West there are a lot of research on how people from the subcontinent have progressed in countries where neither are in majority. This article on UK government’s research in 2002 sums it up:
    Note one of the conclusions “Among South Asians, Indian Muslims do better than Muslims from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds” and “Pakistani Muslims are three times more likely to be jobless than Hindus are”. Furthermore look at UK’s prison statistics on page 11 of this report:‎
    Muslims are by far the most criminal minded in UK. They represent 13.1% of inmates against population of 4% whereas the hindus have the least criminals in jail (0.5% against population of 1.5%). The facts make me ashamed to be a muslim in UK. The situation for muslims has got even worse in recent months as shown by this report
    The prison population it seems has jumped to 25%. We still follow the barbaric rules of 7th century. I wonder who is going to switch off the lights for Muslims.


  • Babloo
    Dec 9, 2013 - 3:07AM

    The white in Pakistan flag should be now substituted with red , the color of blood of the millions of HIndus and Sikhs who made 22% of the population of W pakistan in 1947 and now make just 1% , marginalized and for practical purposes non-existant


  • madhu
    Dec 9, 2013 - 3:21AM

    dear doctor- you have to also mention that the shias who form about 20% of your lovely country are also becoming increasingly marginalised and could become a minority like the ahmadis, hindus, christians-etc


  • Kafir
    Dec 9, 2013 - 3:39AM

    Your suppression of my earlier post is fascistic. I am wondering what you found offensive. Did you find it offensive I pointed out this Pakistani columnist is more honest than the Indian columnists who write for ET?
    allow my post and the earlier one.


  • Babloo
    Dec 9, 2013 - 5:27AM

    First step is introspection to change the trajectory Pakistan has been on since 1947 ( or perhaps even earlier as in 1935 when Muslim League leaders demanded a nation based on a religious majority and identity ). It’s a good first step and any introspection needs to be appreciated.


  • Realist
    Dec 9, 2013 - 9:26AM

    Pakistan is a Islamic Republic. This means minorities cannot be allowed to hold top positions. Part and parcel of being an Islamic Republic. Don’t like it? Go and live in a secular republic then.


  • Mushriq
    Dec 9, 2013 - 10:31AM

    A big mistake after partition was incomplete transfer of population. It should have been complete. No Muslim
    s in India and no Hindus in Pakistan would have saved us both from lots of problems.
    can it still be done?


  • Feroz
    Dec 9, 2013 - 11:00AM

    There is no country in the World where secularism is practiced like in India. There is also no other country which has produced four of the Worlds eight organized Religions. There is no country in the world that has appointed chiefs of the Armed Forces from five religions, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from five Religions, a President from three different Religions or a Prime minister from the minorities that do not form even 2% of the population. To compare any other country with India, more so Pakistan, is nothing but sacrilege. No amount of glib marketing by any country can match this record so when India speaks, it is heard.

    All of this did not happen overnight. At Independence India called a person from India’s most oppressed class (the scheduled caste) Dr A R Ambedkar, and gave him a free hand to write its Constitution. The Constitution he wrote was egalitarian, and was designed to empower the people, more so the most oppressed sections of Society. It broke all the artificial walls dividing people. The Constitution is the backbone of a country and is definitely not a piece of paper that can be consigned to the dustbin, as some believe.

    The people of India have faith in their own ability and are not married to any dogma, religion or superstition — they will continue to challenge every belief, till proved right or wrong. The people decide what is in their national interest, not the Military or the Courts. Pakistan should honestly compare itself with some other country having voluntarily chosen to be against the very idea, that is India.


  • SD
    Dec 9, 2013 - 12:09PM


    Well said, Feroz


  • Naren
    Dec 9, 2013 - 1:47PM

    Well said bro. Fully agree with you.


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 9, 2013 - 3:19PM

    There are no minorities in a democracy which gives equal rights to its citizens. Pakistan is not a democracy per say and has laws from the colonial days. Why complain or lament about the courts.

    Rex Minor


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 9, 2013 - 4:15PM

    I trust that ET will allow this reply to Indian myths….
    Indian constitution is the implant of French Constitution(the so called egalitarian because of the french revolution and the influence of Islam), it practices slavery unmatched in any other country but the minister responsible calls it a Bonded Labour; the majority of its laws practiced are from colonial days and cannot eliminate or prevent the rape culture every 20 minutes(official sttistics), second in the world after south Africa. There are no morals or ethical standards in their commnities or protection for women and practice of the ancient caste systems. Its military is used to maintain the Government hold on the so called democratic order and occupation of iits states when nedcessar, not by any democratic standard. It practices the sterilisation of women to control population growth…

    Rex Minor


  • genesis
    Dec 9, 2013 - 4:43PM

    It cannot be done because Muslims from India will refuse to move to Pakistan but Hindus in Pakistan will jump at this offer to get out as fast as possible.Maybe you should give it a try and see the results.


  • Feroz
    Dec 9, 2013 - 5:17PM

    @Rex Minor:
    I am afraid has not read the French Constitution on which you seem to be an authority. Not sure which country you are talking about but Indian Constitution has harsh laws to deal with bonded labour and slavery, due to which it is eliminated. Thanks to the Constitution the caste system is on its way to becoming history. A great country will identify its faults and weaknesses and work to eliminate them.
    You failed to counter a single point raised by me but kept skipping and jumping from one issue to another. I cannot stoop to your low level to run down any religion, even the most violent or misogynist one. Kindly open your mind and get rid of the illusions and delusions crippling your vision — you will be doing your family, community and country a big favour.
    Khuda Hafiz !Recommend

  • J T
    Dec 9, 2013 - 6:36PM

    The author’s heart seems to be in the right place but his views are still tainted by his home country’s long-standing national narrative (propaganda?). To put it briefly, what essentially differentiates India and Pakistan is that while the idea of India is tolerance for all and being inclusive, Pakistan’s very raison d’etre is the rejection of this Indian idea of inclusion, i.e., the idea of an undivided India. The most common theme that one comes across when trying to understand the minds of many of the luminaries from Muslim League is that they all swore by the exclusive nature of their faith and their idea of Pakistan.

    And, that is why the qualitative and quantitative differences between the way the two countries treat their minorities. India has its share of ugly warts in this regard, but as someone above said, the Indian society as a whole has ample room for introspection and course correction when faced with outrages like the Babri and Gujarat incidents. The constitution, that the Indian people have accepted and maintained for over 63 years now, is only a natural consequence of this culture of tolerance and inclusion.


  • Habib ur Rahman
    Dec 9, 2013 - 6:37PM

    @Indian Friends
    India and Pakistan have a common past and so many of our problems are common. Therefore, a comparison is inevitable.
    It is true that fanaticism, bigotry and sectarianism are on the rise in Pakistan, which are now posing serious challenges for security and integrity of the county. But at the same time, it is also true that these elements constitute a tiny minority. They have always been rejected by the people in general elections, but that is not to say that they don’t have nuisance value. They have and they are usually able to browbeat and intimidate the corrupt, spineless governments into enacting discriminatory laws.
    Overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are enlightened, moderate and tolerant Muslims who want to live and let others live. Their cause is generally not helped by some Indians. Let me give some examples of actions in India which have helped the fanatics in Pakistan:
    1. The people of Kashmir were entitled to choose their own future. The Indian army is occupying the territory with 600,000 soldiers against their will. The number of civilians who died fighting with the occupying forces runs in tens of thousands.This situation is the biggest source of strength for hardliners, who feed on the hatred generated by the dispute.
    2. There were widespread communal riots at the time of independence which created an atmosphere of hostility, which continues to be exploited by the extremists who nourish on hatred.
    3. Hindu extremist elements such as Rashtriya Sevak Sangh and Shiv Sena staged Babri Masjid, Godhra, Gujarat, and Samjhauta Express etc, in which many Muslims were killed. Such incidents are always used to excite anti-India hysteria.
    Whenever an injustice is committed against a minority in either India or Pakistan, the hands of fanatic elements in the other country are strengthened and the minority in that country has to pay the cost. Let the majority in each country help the minority on its own side to help the minority on the other side.


  • its ok
    Dec 9, 2013 - 7:27PM

    @ Habib ur Rahman…… but whatever happens in pakistan does not change the majority people attitude toward minority in india. here also news comes like hindu girls are abducted, forcefully converted even with full details. also we know your laws don’t allows nonmuslims to hold some top post that does not makes us to change our laws and attitude.


  • its ok
    Dec 9, 2013 - 7:30PM

    @ Habib ur Rahman……
    tell me an incident when something happen to hindus in pakistan and we misbehaved here in india.


  • Maula Jatt
    Dec 9, 2013 - 7:44PM

    This is not how Pakistan is. We are a tolerant and accepting nation. Many Christians also left India to come to Pakistan during Partition. Those Hindus and Sikhs who stayed in Pakistan felt loyalty to this great nation and its people. All Pakistanis are one, regardless of religion.

    Indians, all your acts are useless. Pakistanis know enough about their country to see past your hate-mongering.


  • Acorn Guts
    Dec 9, 2013 - 8:10PM

    We’ve allowed 2 generations to grow on a constant diet of religious extremism and non-tolerance .. this crop we’ve already lost, but it is still time to save the future generations! Problem is; none of us seriously wants to.


  • KDP
    Dec 9, 2013 - 8:48PM

    I agree. In the USA It is very very difficult if not impossible to be elected as member of congress or senate unless one is a “Good” born, reborn or converted Christian I can state that at this time it is IMPOSSIBLE for non christian to be elected as President of the USA. USA is one of the most tolerant country in the world however come election time, all candidates wear Christianity on their sleeve. There of course are exceptions like at present there is one Muslim Congressman (elected probably because he is black), one Hindu congress woman (from liberal state of Hawai.


  • Shahin Iqbal
    Dec 9, 2013 - 10:01PM

    @Major Iqbal:
    You have probably never met a muslim from India dear. Recommend

  • Dr Dang
    Dec 9, 2013 - 10:24PM

    Whats new here.. The whole world knows what the author has written.I think its far worse than what the author has written.Recommend

  • Major Iqbal
    Dec 10, 2013 - 2:15AM

    @Shahin Iqbal:

    I’m a Muslim from India.


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 10, 2013 - 4:51AM


    You remind me of what Thomas Jefferson said,

    we are all born stupid, but you have to work hard to be ignorant! Google for info on India if you have not had the time to go to the house of knowledge. Take care.

    Rex Minor


  • its ok
    Dec 10, 2013 - 1:42PM

    @Rex Minor
    after reading you i found, “we all are born stupid but some remain stupid and then no google and wiki can help”.


  • Feroz
    Dec 10, 2013 - 2:23PM

    @Rex Minor:
    The day you are able to differentiate between facts and fiction, a debate will be possible. Till then I wish you well.


  • A Peshawary
    Dec 10, 2013 - 2:23PM

    Feroz has created a controversial discussion let us see where it ends up. Boys keep it up.

    A Peshawary


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 10, 2013 - 4:05PM

    The muslim Nation of the Indo Pak subcontinent has the history as well as the examples of the great ones who are the integral part of history. It is upto the people from the current and coming generations whether they follow the great ones who were the pioneers or to regress and return to the ancient world of avatars. The white colour is the symbol of peace and was not meant for the minority representation as the author has assumed, let the people of Pakistan try to understand what the green colour represents and decode the crescent on the flag.Knowlege is not only the virtue but the power in the world.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • mind control
    Dec 10, 2013 - 7:24PM

    @Rex Minor:

    we are all born stupid, but you have to work hard to be ignorant!

    I am sure no one works as hard at it as you do.


  • Observer
    Dec 11, 2013 - 7:22PM

    Sixtysix years after independence the reality of what Pakistan is comming as a nightmare, not only for the minority but also for the majority. Who is the majority in Pakistan? Is the majority happy? are the Balochi’s happy? are rural folks happy, there is so much poverty, illitracy, unemployment, insecurity, uncertainity, just to think that because one is a muslim would make Pakistan a livable state, is simply a total farce. Time to face up to the reality of what is Pakistan. Why cannot we even face the facts. How long will this take? another 66 years?


  • blitzboy
    Dec 14, 2013 - 2:02AM

    Two Thumbs up for putting it across bluntly


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