By Yaqoob Khan Bangash
November 29, 2016
I’m sure many Pakistanis feel that recently there has been too much focus on ‘minorities.’ After all, they form just five to six per cent of the population, and where even the majority is not safe; they wonder why is there such a hullabaloo about the tiny minorities? Some see it as a foreign led agenda to malign Pakistan by pointing out the ill treatment of minorities, while others see it as a plot by minorities themselves to get easy asylum abroad. So what is the real issue?
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. As one commentator once mentioned, Pakistan is a country which threatens by not point a gun at the other but at its own head — its Pakistan’s implosion which threatens world peace more than its war with any of its neighbours. Hence, how Pakistan views itself has a critical reflection on how it treats its minorities.
Numerically it is bizarre why minorities are a big issue in Pakistan. Enumerating with regards to religion, Pakistan has just about four to five million Christians, just over five million Hindus, and tiny percentages of Sikhs, Buddhists and other minorities. So in a country of over 180 million, just about 10-11 million are non-Muslims — that’s not even 10 per cent. However, under the constitution of Pakistan a non-Muslim cannot become either the President or the Prime Minister of the country. It is as if there is a chance for any Hindu or Christian to even rise to that position which necessitated this clause? In a country which is 94 per cent Muslim, it would be quite impossible for a non-Muslim to get first elected to parliament without Muslim support, then get a majority of the members of the National Assembly to support him/her, and then get elected as PM, or in the even more complicated scenario of the presidential election, get majorities in the provincial assemblies too — if any non-Muslim achieves this impossible feat perhaps they should become the PM or President in any case! But there is a law specifically to prevent this spectacular scenario.
Then there is the issue of forced conversion: it has recently become such an issue that the Sindh Assembly even passed a law to curb it a few days ago. While it is a reality everywhere in Pakistan, it is especially acute in Sindh where numerous Hindu girls are forcibly converted every year. Now imagine, Hindus are perhaps seven to eight per cent of Sindh now, down from about a third at the time of independence, and even when they are in such a diminished state there are elements which want to decimate them even further. The seven to eight per cent of Hindu faces are perhaps too much for these people and they want them to disappear even further.
Similarly any marginally sane non-Muslim would not even imagine saying anything against Islam or its Prophet, but yet routinely there are cases against them for blaspheming, and usually not only are the accused killed but whole communities destroyed in the reprisals.
So why is there such a ‘problem’ with only five to six per cent of Pakistan being non-Muslim? Why are there such pressures on them? They are such a small number that they cannot — even if they bizarrely want to, change anything in Pakistan. They can’t impact national politics in any significant way, can’t rise to the top, and even the middle in many cases, of either government or private offices, and are largely at the margins of society. Yet there are attacks against them, laws specifically discriminate against them, and there is increasing intolerance towards them.
Pakistan’s treatment of minorities in fact shows its lasting unease with itself. Pakistan was created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia, yet neither did it inherit a 100 per cent Muslim country, and nor did it, then or now, create a mechanism to deal with its non-Muslim population within the ambit of a nation-state. Since an important marker of the Muslim community was ‘not being Hindu’ there was always the need for the ‘other’ to forge community cohesion. Hence, no matter how small the ‘other’ its existence led to the distinction of the community. However, ‘other-ing’ within a nation state seldom works and the persistent need for ‘other-ing’ leads to the creation of newer ‘others’ and usually this process never stops.
Today we largely consider Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsees as minorities, but increasingly Ismailis and Shias are being called that too, and who knows soon, the Barevelis (who might be in numerical majority) may be called minorities due to constant attacks on their shrines, and the process would go on till almost everyone is called a minority and discriminated against in one way or another.
Pakistan’s ‘minority problem’ is in reality a problem with itself. Until and unless the country stops being divided against itself and develop a ‘one nation’ theory, it will remain beset with a myriad of problems. And only we — the citizens of this country, can solve this.
Yaqoob Khan Bangash teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’