The fate of minorities in Pakistan

Zafar Aziz Chaudhry

Zafar Aziz Chaudhry

JULY 21, 2020

The old issue of minorities again surfaced recently in Islamabad when over 3000 of its Hindu residents were granted permission to build a Mandir (the first Hindu temple in post-1947 era) on a 0.5 acre land in H-9 sector of Islamabad Capital Territory. Prime Minister Imran Khan had also allocated Rs 100 million for the project on their request. A few old Mandirs in the capital territory were in dilapidated condition and out of use. Moreover, there was no space available to the Hindu community to offer their prayers, perform their marriages and other rituals, including crematoriums to dispose of their dead. Their application made in 2016 was ultimately accepted by the CDA, but during the initial construction of the wall, some young men of a nearby Muslim seminary created hurdles. The CDA stopped the construction. The matter was later taken to Islamabad High Court, which allowed the construction since minorities were guaranteed rights of worship under the Constitution. Later, an inter-court appeal was filed, where the matter is presently pending. It is also a government’s test as to how valiantly this sensitive issue is carried to its logical end. If Hindus are provided with their due rights under our constitution, it would be a big moral victory over India’s vicious treatment of Muslim.

According to the previous census, the non-Muslims population of Pakistan is nearly 10 per cent and Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Ahmadis make up four million each. Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, and about 95-98 per cent of Pakistanis are Muslims. Pakistan has the second-largest number of Muslims in the world after Indonesia.

In Pakistan, there are 96.28 per cent Muslims, 1.85 per cent Hindus, 1.59 per cent Christians, 0.22 per cent Ahmadis, and about 0.07 per cent belonging to other religions.

Hinduism is the second-largest religion in Pakistan after Islam. After Pakistan came into being, 4.7 million of West Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs moved to India as refugees. Hindus in Pakistan are primarily concentrated in Sindh province, while most of the Sikhs are living in KPK province.

A state that was not to interfere with the religious beliefs of its citizens has failed miserably in honouring the very principle on which it was founded

While Hindus in Pakistan are microscopically small in number, there are over 200 million Muslims residing in India. Due to the peculiar history of the sub-continent, there has been acute Hindu-Muslim hatred and rivalry despite the fact that both nations had lived together for centuries. The differences between them were not only religious, but their cultures, traditions, customs and habits were also different. Despite living for centuries in the same region, they did not develop an affinity to co-exist with each other and this provided the Quaid with the main ground to demand a separate homeland for Muslims on the eve of the departure of the British in 1947.

The fundamental basis on which the edifice of the new state of Pakistan should have been raised is contained in August 11 speech of the Quaid, made in the Constituent Assembly. This is too often quoted, but because of its importance, I would like to reproduce its more relevant part one more time to show why and where we erred and what brought about our tragedy:

“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 the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not so in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

A country, which was envisioned to be a home for all, without regard to one’s caste, creed or religion, to provide equal rights to all citizens of the state, and a state that was not to interfere with the religious beliefs of its citizens has failed miserably in honouring the very principle on which it was founded.

Pakistan now ranks as the seventh most dangerous country in the world for religious minorities.

The Objectives Resolution introduced by Liaquat Ali Khan in 1949 attempted to establish nationhood in Pakistan through religious conformity. This meant that the laws and regulations would be framed in accordance with Islam; exposing the vulnerable communities of the new state to religious exploitation. The ulema felt empowered by

this “Islamic” way of running the state. They demanded the Ahmadia community to be declared non-Muslim and removal of Sir Zafarullah Khan, the Foreign Minister whom the Quaid had appointed, and this led to wide-spread violence leading to first Martial law in Pakistan. This led to the polarization between the orthodox and moderate Muslims.

When the 1973 Constitution was introduced, the Objectives Resolution was retained as the preamble to the constitution, but by a later amendment, it was merged in the Constitution.

Supreme Court, by a later judgment, required it to be made an integral part of the constitution for its clear interpretation. The new constitution declared Pakistan as an Islamic state. It restricted the offices of the prime minister and president of Pakistan to Muslims only. Article 260 of the constitution unequivocally declared the Ahmadiya community as a non-Muslim minority. General Zia later introduced several amendments which significantly altered the 1973 Constitution.

Since the Islamisation during the Zia regime, polarisation in society has increased. Violence against religious minorities has been escalating over time, with the highest number of instances of violence recorded in the years 2011 and 2012. The Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians have all fallen victim to the amendments introduced by Zia, which led not only the Muslims but also the non-Muslims to fall into this black hole. Most of the incidents of violence between various minorities occurred in the years 2011 and 2012. Churches in various parts of the country were set ablaze and looted and worshippers were seriously injured. Important public functionaries of Pakistan government were murdered. There were forced conversions of Hindus and Christians. The ghost of Sectarianism stalked the land, and countless people were murdered in the name of religion. Pakistan was seen at the international level as a theocratic state.

In the present-day world, Pakistan is one of the few countries where minorities are considered dreadfully unsafe. Unfortunately, even the majority does not consider itself safe. It is ironic that the minorities, who are just five to six per cent of the population, are harassed and tortured by the majority for fear that they may not one-day capture power and rule over their heads. Besides, a non-Muslim cannot become President or Prime Minister of the country. Most members of the minorities live under the mortal terror of the majority of Muslims. Most of them are side-lined and live under sub-human conditions. The ill-treatment of minorities is seen by some as foreign-led agenda to malign Pakistan, while others see it as a plot by minorities themselves to get easy asylum abroad. So that it is not known what is the real issue?

I have gone through many writers and researchers to know what has really gone wrong and where? The only valid explanation of this mess is given by an eminent historian of Pakistan. According to him, “The real issue is that Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities is a reflection on itself, its identity and its people – as a whole. Pakistan is a country which is constantly at war with itself.” The minorities feel that they live in a society which has lost its own identity and do not know where they are destined to go. The course set for Pakistanis by the Father of the Nation has long been forgotten by them and they have gone too far away on the course of their history to retrieve the ideals set for them by their leader. The government finds itself in the quagmire of gigantic problems of its own making that the issues of minorities have become its last priority. In such an environment there is no quick solution to their problems. At best they should serenely work as loyal citizens of Pakistan to contribute their own bit to ameliorate the burden of the state. However, Pakistan’s image abroad will largely depend upon its treatment of its minorities. The test of Pakistan’s good international image will mainly depend on how fairly its minorities are treated.

The writer is a former member of the Provincial Civil Service, and an author of Moments in Silence

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