By Garga Chatterjee
Oct 1, 2013
Islamic terrorists have killed at least 85 Christian worshippers at a church in Peshawar on September 22.
Outright murder represents the sharpest edge of what Christian and other ‘constitutionally’ non-Muslim people endure in Pakistan. Their daily life in a nation-state that officially considers them unequal in various ways to official Muslims is not pretty. Usurpation of property, blasphemy charges, attacks and destruction of places of worship, rape and subsequent forced conversion (or the reverse order) of womenfolk form the visible tip of a much broader systemic antagonism.
Thankfully, the minorities are not completely friendless in Pakistan. At grave personal risk, people like IA Rahman, Asma Jehangir and others have been standing in solidarity with religious minorities of Pakistan, protesting on the streets, for decades. The threat to their lives is very real.
Jundullah, the Islamic terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the Peshawar massacre, laid out in no uncertain terms how it justifies the attack. ‘‘All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country.’’
So, non-Muslims in Pakistan are, in their understanding, more America’s than Pakistan’s and if America cared enough for its ‘own’ in Pakistan, it had better stop doing things to Muslims in Pakistan. This equation of America = Christian = some hapless Suleiman Masih in Peshawar has widespread appeal, beyond present-day Pakistan.
Those with longer memory know this as the once pernicious ‘hostage’ theory. Muhammad Ali Jinnahbhai, the Quaid of the Muslim League, enunciated this most explicitly. A macabre formula for peace, by this notion, is the safety of religious ‘minorities’ in the then still-to-be-born Pakistan and India majority community A won’t attack minority community B, for in other places, community A was a minority where B was the majority, and hence vulnerable.
So violence would not happen locally, as communities that imagine themselves non-locally, would face retaliation elsewhere. A minority then is a hostage of the majority.
Two antagonistic hostage-takers will ensure peace. Rather then hostage-driven peace, the subcontinent has witnessed many instances of what can be called retaliatory hostage torture.
The massacre of Hindus in Noakhali on Kojagori Lakshmi Puja day, the massacre of Muslims at Garhmukteshwar, the reciprocal train-massacres crossing the Radcliffe border of Punjab, the massacres in Dhaka and Barisal the list goes on. The list shows that hostage torture enjoyed a broad currency. The Muslim League was simply brazen enough to state it as such.
A tacit acknowledgement of the ‘hostage’ status of minorities was the basis of the Nehru-Liaquat pact to protect the minorities in West Bengal and East Bengal.
The hostage theory lives on when the Babri mosque demolition causes hundreds of temples to be destroyed in the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. This is why a Hindu there is more India’s than theirs sort of an unreasonable remnant that ideally shouldn’t have been there. The hostage theory is an ideology of the book and not of the soil.
The question of a human’s belonging, in that heartless scheme of things, is not with the soil beneath his ground, but with someone faraway bound by similar ideology. This binds people from disparate soils similarly, and divides people from the same soil. The modern dominance of universalist, extra-local ideologies of community definition, as opposed to the local and the ecological, has taken a heavy toll on humanity.
Peshawar shows that the ideology of the hostage theory is alive and well in the subcontinent. Jundullah may be its sharp edge. The rounded margins exist in very many among us.