By Yasser Latif Hamdani
May 6, 2019
90 years ago when Jinnah stood up to speak on the Child Marriages Restraint Bill in the Indian central legislature, no one amongst the Hindus said to him “You are a Muslim and you should not speak on this matter.” The bill was introduced to stop the practice of child marriages in India, which at least Jinnah at one point thought was more prevalent amongst Hindus than Muslims. He later realised that child marriage was equally prevalent amongst Muslims and thus became even more passionately involved in the passage of the bill. Jinnah himself had married a woman significantly younger than him but only after she had turned 18.
Jinnah’s role in passage of the Sarda Bill was so significant that years later during the Pakistan Movement, the pro-Congress Ulema attacked him for having “forced” the law upon Muslims in contravention to Islamic principles. Jinnah had famously in his speech on the bill warned against the orthodox sections of the community who always stood in the way of social reform. He had ended his speech saying that if his own constituency were not advanced enough to approve of a measure to stop child marriages, he would ask them to elect someone else.
Ironically we see the same debate being played in Pakistan’s National Assembly today where members of ruling party are attempting to stop the state’s measure to put an end to a practice that has no place in the 20th Century. What is more disturbing is that a sitting minister of parliamentary affairs no less told a member of his own party that since he was a Hindu. Unknown to the minister clearly is the fact that the founder of this country himself had appointed a Hindu as the first law minister of the new country. It was the clearest indication of what kind of country Jinnah actually wanted and he said it in no uncertain terms on 11 August 1947. Pakistan did not follow his advice but nonetheless the Pakistani Constitution does purport to give equal rights to all citizens.
Any member of the Pakistani parliament can and has absolute privilege to speak on any issue that concerns any citizen of Pakistan. Anyone who denies this does not know the law or the constitution of the country. The minister of state in question has often made ridiculous statements, which show that despite claiming to be a lawyer he knows absolutely nothing about the constitution. It was this same minister of state who rather ignorantly claimed that Atif Mian should not be on the Economic Advisory Council because he “rejected” the constitution. Once again, the minister was clueless. Yes the Pakistani Constitution declares Ahmadis Non-Muslims for the purposes of law and constitution but the same Constitution also gives every citizen the right to practise, profess and propagate their faith freely. If an Ahmadi believes himself to be a Muslim the Constitution of Pakistan cannot and does not ask him to believe otherwise. This is not the rejection of the constitution. Disobedience to the Constitution will only be if any Ahmadi adopted any unconstitutional means to change the position. No Ahmadi to my knowledge has ever resorted to civil disobedience or an armed struggle against the state of Pakistan. In fact the groups, the said minister is close to have on numerous occasions done all that. There is no sense of fairness or justice amongst the members of the ruling party.
Yes, the Pakistani Constitution declares Ahmadis Non-Muslims for the purposes of law and constitution but the same Constitution also gives every citizen the right to practise, profess and propagate their faith freely
Speaking of Ahmadis, they are denied their basic constitutional rights as Pakistanis, including being denied jobs, livelihoods and the right to practise and profess their faith freely. Both the constitutional amendment that declared them Non-Muslim and the ordinance that took away their right to practise freely amount to acts of attainder against an entire community. Bills of attainder have long fallen out of favour in British parliament where the last one was a few centuries ago. The US Constitution specifically outlaws them. Yet Pakistani parliament to the extent of Ahmadis has continued to exercise this in complete defiance to the country’s obligations under the UN Human Rights Charter and other international treaties.
After the Sri Lanka bombings, the ire there turned against Pakistani refugees. Most of those refugees were Ahmadis who, whether you consider them Muslims or not, are completely peaceful and would have never resorted to any violence. They were attacked for being Muslim. In fact the perpetrators of the Sri Lanka tragedy come from the same community that discriminates against Ahmadis and calls them Non-Muslim. Now Ahmadis may be Non-Muslim but they are most definitely Pakistanis. Does the Pakistani state not have an obligation to them stranded in Sri Lanka? Bring them back. By all means do not consider them Muslims, but give them their constitutional rights that cannot be denied to them under any pretext. Of course this presupposes that the ruling party would believe in principles of justice and fair play. Their conduct so far in the last 10 months or so leaves no room for optimism.
So when is the Pakistani state going to fulfil its responsibility and ensure practical equality of citizenship in Pakistan? It is not likely to happen under a regime that is incapable of appointing ministers of state for parliamentary affairs that at least have a basic understanding of the idea of citizenship under Pakistani Constitution. Imran Khan has gathered around him the most incredibly ignorant lot and they are just taking the country in a direction where it is not likely to end well for not just minorities but anyone who disagrees with the majoritarian fascism to which the ruling party subscribes. Imran Khan criticises Modi for anti Muslim policies in India, but remains blissfully unaware of what is going on under his own watch.