By Yasser Latif Hamdani
December 7, 2020
The biggest lie that we often tell ourselves is that religious minorities are equal citizens of this country. There is not even a pretence of equality beyond a single line in the Constitution’s Article 25(1) more conspicuous by how much it is flouted than its implementation. Our leaders say that minorities are better treated in Pakistan than in India. This is a joke that no one in the world is ready to buy. Then our leaders have the gall to refer to Jinnah’s 11 August speech, which spoke of religious identity becoming immaterial and an end to the classifications of majority and minority i.e. “Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims … as citizens of one state” and referring to the poignant period in British history that was marred by the Protestant and Roman Catholic conflict.” Time and again Mr. Jinnah told people that Pakistan shall not be a theocratic state. Yet that is precisely what we are under this current constitution.
This constitution, which belongs to 1500s if not earlier, differentiates on the basis of religion. One has written enough times to repeat here. It seeps down to every day life. For example every religious minority in Pakistan does not merely need to list his or her religion on the NIC application form but also give a negative declaration i.e. he or she is not a Muslim. On the face of it you might say that this splitting hair. However the matter is not merely psychological. It means that Muslims are somehow the natural real citizens and proprietors of this country and Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Hindus and so on and so forth are merely squatters. This kind of is akin to Andrew Jackson’s policy with regard to Cherokee Indians. Just like the Cherokee Indians, Hindus and religious minorities have lived here for millennia. Yet they are being treated like strangers in their own home. The only other example of this kind of plight is that of the Palestinians in Israel. It is not surprising that both states are theocratic in nature, though Israel less than Pakistan.
The only thing minorities can do is to look to international bodies like the UN to enforce the treaties and declarations Pakistan is bound by
Pakistan is a powder keg, which can blow up at any time and does so routinely. Even the so called educated ones are not exempt from it. For example in a WhatsApp group of highly educated legal professionals, I ventured forth the opinion that the now departed Khadim Hussain Rizvi was a foul-mouthed cleric, which no reasonable person can disagree with. I was chided and almost accused of blasphemy. So it is not just the religious minorities who are second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh class citizens (depending on which minority you are) but even us in the majority. Apparently having a dim view of Khadim Rizvi is akin to outraging the feelings of the overwhelming majority in Pakistan. So we are all second class citizens if we don’t fall on the right side of the hybrid military theocracy i.e. the Military Mullah Alliance. Give the devil his due, General Musharraf tried to break this alliance and end the theocracy but even he, supposedly an absolute dictator, was unable to do so. He was thwarted by the likes of Shujaat Hussain and others. There were other players involved but this is not the time to get into that. The hold of religious extremism is so severe that even the military, the progenitors of this extremism, cannot roll it back.
As for the religious minorities there is absolutely no hope. They can try and string together a political alliance or a political party i.e. minorities’ league or congress or some such. However what good would that do? When the constitution is at the base theocratic, there is no chance of progress from within.
The only thing minorities can do is to look to international bodies like the UN to enforce the treaties and declarations Pakistan is bound by. However Pakistan is notorious when it comes to flouting international covenants. To begin with Pakistan puts in so many reservations on the treaty clauses that entire treaty becomes useless. In the international law circles Pakistan is a joke and a pariah state. When Pakistan gets elected to UN’s Human Rights Council, it is seen as a joke and an example of how countries that trample human rights can become members of the UN Human Rights Council.
In the long run it will only hurt Pakistan. The posterity, especially that in the distant future will look back and laugh. If you listen hard enough you can hear it even now across space time continuum. Others will wonder how it was possible that such a medieval state could exist in 21 st Century. A future Shakespeare like playwright will write a tragedy called “Jinnah’s blunder” with Jinnah as a tragic hero who in the last act would cry out “Pakistan was the biggest blunder of my life”. A strangely apt ending given that Jinnah was a thespian himself versed in Shakespeare. Pakistan will likely remain on the wrong side of history and each government after the other would be worse till Pakistan will become a Kafkaesque dystopia. There would be no first class citizens, only multitudes of poor hapless and fearful masses who will cannibalize each other. Such will be the fate of the theocracy we call Pakistan. The luckier ones would have escaped it by then.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is Barrister of Lincoln's Inn
Original Headline: Second class citizenship in a theocratic state
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan
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