Who will speak for me if I belong to Pakistan’s Minority Community?
Abdul Hafiz Gandhi is Doctoral Research Scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University and was President of Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union. He is a Congress activist. He can be reached at abdulhafizgandhi[at]gmail.com.
The test of success of any democratic nation is its fair and equitable treatment to the minorities. The countries of Indian sub-continent have failed this test very often. There may be difference in degree of failures but these countries have often failed to protect the rights of their minority communities. There have been continuous violation of their rights and the year 2012 is no exception to these failures. Religious minorities in India, Pakistan and Burma were at the receiving end and have faced discrimination, atrocities and violation of their right to life and property. In India religious minorities are the targets of Hindutva brigade, Pakistani society and government grossly discriminate and harass the non-Muslim minorities and all sorts of atrocities including kidnapping their girls, forceful conversions and marriages are performed every now and then; and in Burma Muslim minority became the targets of the majority community, where many Rohingya Muslims lost their lives and property. In neighbouring Bangladesh stories of violence against Hindu minority crop-up frequently with the result that many have fled Bangladesh to seek refuge in the states of West Bengal and Assam. Sri Lanka’s Tamil speaking minority population has witnessed indescribable violence for decades.
Seeing all this bloodshed and hatred, we are reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr. which he wrote in a letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963. He wrote ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Injustice is injustice and needs to be condemned in unequivocal terms. When you do not object to injustice being committed at one place, you give license to somebody to commit the same injustice with you elsewhere. We all live in a so-compact world that atrocities and injustices if allowed in a smaller circle, it gives right to the people in the larger circle to commit those same atrocities or injustices with you. Hence, in order to prevent it happening at your place, you need to object to the occurrence of these wrongs at any place- be it in your country or abroad.
Tolerating the acts of injustices committed against disadvantageous groups of people is like being silent and waiting for the perpetrator to turn against you. When Hitler was persecuting the Jews and Communists in Germany others remained silent in the hope that it’s only happening to these two groups of people but these silent and mute breed of other people could not remain safe for longer as Hitler turned his tirade against all whom he considered a threat to his vision for Germany.
Calling spade a spade is a requirement of the all the times. I know that there have been many instances in India where minorities had to bear the brunt. A lot of damage was caused to their life, property and dignity. But despite these aberrations one can say that minorities in India are in far better conditions in comparison to Hindu and Christian minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many Hindu minority families are fleeing Pakistan for fear of persecution and being converted to Islam. In Balochistan and Sindh where majority of the Hindu minority in Pakistan resides, many cases of girls’ abduction, rapes, forceful marriages and killings have come to the fore. The feeling in Hindus that has developed over a period of time is that it’s better to live in another country than to live there in perpetual fear. Marvi Memon (now with PML-N) in an article in The Express Tribune, 20th October, 2010 observed ‘The Hindu community is peaceful — so what is its biggest sin? It is a minority in a land where there is no rule of law. All that is needed is the political will to go after those involved in these kidnappings — the incidents will stop and our Hindu compatriots will stop fleeing to India.’ The infamous case is of Rinkie, who even approached Supreme Court of Pakistan for safety and security against the alleged forceful marriage of hers by Mian Mithu, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian with his son but alas, forced by dreaded threatening to her family members, she said in the Supreme Court that she had converted to Islam. Not only this, the conversion of a boy Sunil in full media glare is the extreme example of Hindu minority persecution. I shudder to think if same thing would have happened to a Muslim minority boy or a girl in India getting converted to any other faith on the Indian Television, havens would have fallen. Have we ever seen an Indian Muslim being converted to Hinduism in so much media glare? No. But this act of extreme intolerance was committed in Pakistan but the torchbearers of secularism and human rights in the Muslim community did not show any courage to condemn such an inhuman act. Religion is a personal affair and even if the boy had converted to Islamic faith own his free will it should have been kept as a private affair. Showing it on TV is like turning religion into a tool for mass entertainment. Have we ever thought of the repercussions if Buddhists in Myanmar would have tried to convert a Muslim on a live TV show? Surely, it would have been condemned by everybody, then why this studied silence by the Muslim intellectuals and civil society activists on this televised conversion in Pakistan?
It’s disturbing to note that a situation is fast developing where Muslims will only speak for Muslims and Hindus for Hindus. This must not happen. Human rights violation is a human rights issue and every right thinking person must stand up against these violations without thinking about the religious or other considerations with regard to the victims. There is no such rule that Muslims will raise the issues of Muslims and Hindus of the Hindus only. Fortunately in India various fights for justice for the minorities were fought by non-Muslims. Teesta Setalvad, Harsh Mander, Sanjeev Bhatt, Mukul Sinha, Rahul Sharma, Mallika Sarabhai etc. are some of the activists and concerned citizens who continuously stood for the cause of riots victims of Gujarat. Their efforts bore fruits and in August, 2012 Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and 30 other accused were convicted for committing heinous inhuman crimes against minority community in post-Godhra riots. The question which stare us in the face is: how many Muslims opposed the violations of human rights committed against Hindu, Chirstian and non-Sunni Muslim minorities in Pakistan? Why the Muslims in India only see the Hindutva forces’ communalism as dangerous and why they do not oppose the rabid communalism perpetuated in Pakistan on the Hindu and Christian minorities? Communalism anywhere has to be condemned. It can never be the case that Muslim communalism is better than the Hindutva communalism or vice versa. Why Muslim intellectuals and civil rights activists do not raise the demand that in Muslim countries all irrespective of their religious affiliations should get equal rights? Even they should raise the demand that minorities keeping in view their vulnerability due to lesser numbers should get more constitutional and legal protection.
Why almost all Muslim leadership whether religious, social or political is silent on the persecution of Hindus, Christians and non-Sunni Muslims in Pakistan? Why they do not organize demonstration in front of Pakistani Embassy in New Delhi and demand the end to these atrocities on the minority communities? The fight for secularism and equal rights cannot be fought with limited vision. Wrong is wrong and it has to be stopped. Muslims of India must come out and oppose the persecution of non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan, and then only one has a moral right to oppose the communalism of the Hindutva forces. If Muslims remain silent on the atrocities on minorities in Pakistan, they lose the moral right to stand up against the atrocities committed against minorities in India by Hindutva forces. I am of the view that Indian Muslims must also oppose the communalism of some Muslim organizations in India. Both Hindu and Muslim communalism are threat to the peaceful co-existence.
Pakistani Hindus are more vulnerable as they are identified as Indians because of their religion. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (Sindh Chapter) approximately 3000 Hindu families have migrated to India in the last three years. This is quite alarming trend and indicates how mal-treated these Hindu families might be that they decided to seek asylum in India. The incidents of kidnappings, forced conversations and marriages have compelled these families to seek refuge in India. The plight of the scheduled castes among the Pakistani Hindus is even worst. Because of the hierarchal social ladder within the Hindus, where there is ascending order of privileges and descending order of disabilities, these scheduled caste people get less security within the community itself and hence they become easy prey for the vested interests. The atrocities and violations of human rights of scheduled caste girls were ignored or went unreported most of the times as their families were weak, poor and mostly employed as farm labourers. Their poverty combined with lower position in the social ladder make them more vulnerable in the power structure of the society. Even the upper caste and mercantile Hindus do not show social solidarity with this group and therefore atrocities with the girls of this less powerful social group were either went unreported or ignored but when it started with the so-called upper castes Hindus the resentment rises and the result was the fleeing of these families to India to evade violence and atrocities.
With escalation in violence against minorities and increasing radicalization of government machinery in Pakistan certain communities invented new ways to survive in the otherwise hostile environment. For instance, in the Christian community in Pakistan there has been a planned strategy of adopting Muslim names to evade persecution. Some estimates show that about 60% of them have adopted Muslims names. Common feeling that has gained deep roots there is that if you want anything you have to be a Muslim. Christians in Pakistan quote Pakistani cricketer Yousaf Youhana’s case to prove their point. People alleged that Youhana, a Christian by faith had to convert to Islam in 2005 to become the captain of Pakistan’s cricket team. I would have hated the Indian Team if Mohd Azharuddin would have been compelled to change his faith as a pre-condition for being made the captain of Indian Cricket team. I favour conversion from one faith to another but only when it is done out of the free will. Compulsion has no place in religious affairs.
The question is why the space for tolerance is being diminished in Pakistan with every passing year? The answer lies in the increasing radicalisation of state institutions initiated in 1980s by the then President of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq. He declared Pakistan to be an Islamic republic. The obvious consequences were the cultural marginalization and religious persecution of the Hindus and people belonging to other non-Sunni Muslim beliefs. A state has no reason whatsoever to interfere in the religious affairs. Religion is a personal matter and must be left to the individuals themselves to handle it.
Facts and data speak voluminous about the persecution and discrimination of minorities in Pakistan. An estimate shows that in 1951 West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were having 22% (approx.) population of Hindus. And now in 2012 estimate indicates that percentage of Hindus has come down to 12% (approx.) both in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan has now 2.5% and Bangladesh about 9.2% of the Hindu minority population. Why this sharp reduction in the percentages of population of Hindu minority in both of these countries? Clearly this shows the bias, prejudice and discrimination against this religious group and because of all this they either fled to India or became the victims of the persecution machinery.
Hazara Shia Muslims in Pakistan are meeting the same fate. In the first week of September, 2012 itself seven Hazara Shias were selectively killed. Hazara Shias are easily identifiable because of their Mongloid features and become easy targets of the violence mongers and sectarian elements. Thousands of Hazara Shias have left the country and sought refuge in other countries. The intolerance against non-Sunni Muslim minorities is on the increase in Pakistan. The Muslims adhering to the Sufism or Barelvi thought are continuous targets of the sectarian forces. Mosques and Khankhas are bombed frequently killing many unaware of the dangers. Why this intolerance? Why society and government going in the direction of alienating and eliminating various minorities endangering the principle of peaceful co-existence and the right to live even if adhering to different strands of religious thoughts?
Has not Pakistan deviated from the vision of its founder? Pakistan’s Qaid-e-Azam Mohd Ali Jinnah who on 11th August, 1947 in the Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly said “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 or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State….You will find that in course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” Is this a Pakistan which Jinnah wanted to make? Jinnah would have been most unhappy man if he would have seen all this happening in his dream project. He would have really said ‘what I have done by creating a separate State of Pakistan?’ He lamented the partition when he saw with his naked eyes the huge migration and resultant violence on both sides of the newly created borders. While seeing the unabated violence and sufferings of the people Jinnah said to his companions Iftikhar-ud-din, Pakistan’s Rehabilitation Minister and Mazhar Ali Khan, editor of Pakistan Times in the Dakota flying over divided Punjab ‘What I have done?’ Kuldip Nayar discloses this fact in his recently released book ‘Beyond The Lines’.
The future of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar or any country for that matter lie in the practices of secularism and treating their all citizens as equal irrespective of their religion, race or any other affiliations. This world is a beautiful place where people professing different faiths, speaking many sweet languages and practicing many diverse cultures reside. This mosaic needs to be protected and preserved. If this social mosaic is not reflected in the public domain the government needs to intervene to provide representation to these various people so that they have voice in policy formulation and implementation of the policies and programmes. But, instead of providing equal opportunities, government or its majority community adopt discriminatory attitude against religious, linguistic and cultural minorities. This does not augur well for the over-all health of the county and its society.
Peaceful and democratic resistance and voices of dissent against this discriminatory attitude must be raised. We know that there are some moderate and progressive voices in the shape of Asma Jahangir, Ansar Burney and others in Pakistan, who talk in defence of these minorities protecting their interests, but these voices of resistance are few; and the problem is of mammoth proportions. If in India people like Teesta Setalvad and Harsh Mander speak for the justice for the minorities, why not the Indian Muslim minority raise their voices on the injustices and atrocities committed on the non-Sunni Muslim minorities in Pakistan?
I know one fact for the sure: if you will not speak for others, others will have no interest to speak for you and your cause. We all are living in a compact world where incidents anywhere affect us at our places. And therefore, I am waiting for the day when Indian Muslim intellectuals and civil society groups will start speaking against the atrocities committed on others not professing their faith in neighbouring and other foreign countries. I am also waiting for the day when non-Muslims will speak against the communalism of the Muslims and Muslims will be doing the same against the communalism of the non-Muslims with equal ease. I am also waiting for the day when your communalism and my communalism will equally be considered dangerous.
I hope that Indian Muslims in general will learn to speak against the atrocities committed in India and abroad on the people not professing Islam as their faith. I sincerely believe that right thinking Muslim intellectuals and civil rights groups will meet Pakistani High Commissioner and hand over a representation to him in the Pakistan embassy, New Delhi in protest against the discrimination and persecution of non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan and if need arises, will gherao the Pakistani Embassy with democratic means and ways if the atrocities are not stopped on the minorities in Pakistan.
I, as member of minority community in India, feel vulnerable and it is therefore my moral responsibility to speak for the weak and marginalized minority communities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Iraq or anywhere else for that matter. I see and feel in their persecution my persecution and I must speak against this as I firmly believe ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’