“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
— Muhammad Ali Jinnah
A few weeks ago, while I was visiting a friend, I went into her kitchen to pick up a plate. As I reached out to pick up one lying next to the sink, her cook grabbed it from my hand. When I asked him what was wrong with the plate, he said it was used by the Christian maid. When I asked why she needed a separate plate, he said none of the staff — plus the begum sahib of the house — wanted to share plates, glasses or even cutlery with her.
Recently, I wished my viewers “Merry Christmas” on my morning show. Within minutes, there were comments on the show’s Facebook page saying that wishing Merry Christmas is blasphemous and that it makes me a non-Muslim. Apparently, I should not even say the words “Merry Christmas”. Instead, if I ‘insist’ on saying something to the Christians of Pakistan, I should only say “Happy Christmas”. That makes no sense to me. All my life, I’ve been wished ‘Eid Mubarak’ by Christians, Hindus and Jews alike.
My make-up artist and stylist, Irfan, asked me if I would help him register for his Matric. When I asked him how come he hadn’t finished his education, he told me he had dropped out. When he was in seventh grade, the school changed his last name (along with that of all the other Christian students) in the school records to Masih. From then on, the other kids in the school started to make fun of him and even hit him. The teachers also started treating him differently and some children were told by their parents that they could no longer talk to him or play with him. Finally, when he couldn’t take the abuse anymore, he just dropped out of school.
Many years ago, I worked in a television series in Canada. I still remember one line I delivered: “We South Asians are an interesting people. When we can’t find anyone else to discriminate against, we start discriminating against each other.”
Every year we remember the words of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah about how the citizens of Pakistan are free to go to their temples and their churches. And every time I see religious injustice happen in Pakistan, I repeat it to myself, feeling ashamed and enraged.
This is not my Quaid’s Pakistan. This is not the dream Allama Iqbal had. I know we are all better than this as human beings and as Pakistanis.
So far as I know, Pakistan was built to give the Muslims of India a separate homeland where they would be free to practise their religion without fear. It was not built so that the majority community could discriminate against minorities.
Why can’t we live and let live? Is it so difficult to let others live their lives with the same dignity and respect we expect for ourselves?
Why can’t we just accept that everyone is different even within one religious framework and that it’s okey to be different?
The bigger point to note here is that prejudice against Christians and Hindus is but one visible facet of our increasingly intolerant society. Once you accept that people have the right to freedom of religion, it applies to everyone — Christians, Hindus, Jews and even other Muslims. Let’s hope that we remember that in 2014.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2014.