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Pakistan: The inhumanity of majoritarianism in Lynching Jagdish

By Farida Majid


The frenzy of doing something in honour of ‘religion’ is boosted by the pretension that such behaviour must be so ‘good’ in the eyes of God that it does not need accountability to any man-made law. Indeed, law enforcement agencies are effectively paralysed by the pseudo-religious aspect of the frenzy… Communalism, the Pakistani-Indian-Bangladeshi version of European fascism, is made of such mob frenzy and inhuman brutality created around falsehoods and fabrications.


Jagdish was a ‘man of no importance’. A ‘nobody’. While he was alive no man of any importance would have suspected that this obscure ‘nobody’ could turn into an ‘everyman’ of the 1.6 per cent of minority in a Muslim country of 160 million people. The lifeless torso of 22-yr old Jagdish became more than that, or, as Dr Moeed Pirzada put it in a column in The Daily Times (April 19 2008), it became ‘the battered face of the state of Pakistan.’ Not just of Pakistan, but the act of lynching Jagdish symbolises the ongoing story of the entire South Asia’s spree of majoritarianism in the name of modern democracy.


In the post-Zia-ul-Huq Pakistani society dominated by rebarbative Salafi-Wahhabi Islamist zealots even Sufi Muslims quake in fear of being caught as the defiler of ‘faith.’ Ahmadiyyas are declared ‘non-Muslims’, and Khoja, Ismaili Shia and other communities pray at their mosques and celebrate their holy days with the very real possibility of being blown up by a suicide bomber. What hope would non-Muslims have of leading a dignified human existence in such atmosphere? There was a Pakistani Christian nurse in my English class at a CUNY college in the Bronx, New York City, in 2005. Clouds of pain and bitterness floated over her face as she groped for an answer to my casual question after a class: ‘How are things at home?’


Jagdish had come to Karachi to earn a living as a factory worker from a hangdog Hindu community in the south of Sindh province. Fellow Hindu workers with whom he resided in Marwari Mohalla in the city were too traumatised to go out to work after the lynching incident on April 8, 2008, thereby losing their meagre income. The factory management of Nova Industries neither condoled Jagdish’s death nor made any gesture to reassure the return of the Hindu labourers.


The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s fact-finding team revealed how Jagdish was caught in a specious argument with two fellow workers and how quickly an emotional mob was mustered by the spread of a rumour that Jagdish had made blasphemous remarks against the Prophet of Islam (pubh). The frenzied mob kept beating him with boots and bars; screwdrivers and scissors were used to gouge his eyes out, and then an axe was found handy for hacking. The mood was so intense that the police, mere onlookers during the beating, could not rescue the body from the crowd’s fury even though the man was long dead.


Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis who question the purpose of such a law believe that since the imposition of the blasphemy law in 1982, reformulated in 1986, violence and brutality against non-Muslims increased exponentially (see Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed’s column in, 4/26/2008). No one seems to have been officially sentenced by the law thus far giving further evidence of its uselessness in real-world juridical matters. A vague knowledge of its existence is enough to engage in illegal summary justice. But then again, for some perpetrators of communal crimes, it matters little whether a law is in the books or not. The frenzy of doing something in honour of ‘religion’ is boosted by the pretension that such behaviour must be so ‘good’ in the eyes of God that it does not need accountability to any man-made law. Indeed, law enforcement agencies are effectively paralysed by the pseudo-religious aspect of the frenzy. The police have either remained inactive spectators or got beaten up themselves by the rioters in these eruptions of communal violence throughout the Indian subcontinent.


Communalism, the Pakistani-Indian-Bangladeshi version of European fascism, is made of such mob frenzy and inhuman brutality created around falsehoods and fabrications. In India, officially a secular state, the Hindutva Brigade has made communalism a crude but elaborate machinery with organisational punch. Anyone with some knowledge of Jew-baiting in Nazi Germany and Austria of 1930-40 will detect the similarity in the Hindutva group’s tactics of mobilising anti-Muslim and anti-Christian passions to garner support. Not in spite of, rather it seems because of the avowed secular nature of the government at the centre; the Hindu State or Hindu Rashtra proponents pose as ultra-nationalists resembling those of Nazi Austria of 1938-39 and proclaim that every Muslim, every Christian and every Communist in India is a threat to the nation’s security.


Eruptions of communal riots, resulting sometimes in cold-blooded massacre of Muslims, and terrorising whole communities, are routine occurrences in India. As if they are not bad enough, to top them all was the brutality of Gujarat carnage of 2002. I was not there, but, being with a bunch of fellow activists against communalism, Concerned South Asians in New York City, I had access to close documentation of escalation of events from Godhra train station incident to the full scale riot that followed. The gruesome details of rape, arson, killings and general carnage exceed the scale of what happened on Kristallnacht, November, 1938 in Germany. The gleeful mood of the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and other Hindutvawala perpetrators in Gujarat, however, was reminiscent of the marauding Nazis at Kristellnacht in Germany, 1938.


Close to 2000 lives were lost in the Gujarat 2002 riot and an estimated 150,000 displaced Muslims were shacked in relief camps living as refugees in their own city and state. As a disturbing picture of the state government’s complicity emerged at a hearing, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom termed Gujarat’s anti-Muslim riot ‘genocide’ in June, 2002. Report after report by fact-finding missions, forensic teams, NGOs and government commissions, plus a slew of criminal court cases have yielded paltry results in terms of punishment for the miscreants and meting out justice for the victims. What is equally disheartening is the way fervour for communal hatred is skilfully translated into electoral victories for the BJP, the official arm of the Sangh Parivar or the loose collection of Hindutva orientated organisations. Narendra Modi, the chief architect of the Gujarat carnage of 2002 as the chief minister of the state, was re-elected in December 2007. Sonia Gandhi of Congress party had called Modi ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ or the Merchant of Death during the election campaign. She was roundly rebuked by the press for her remark and her party was defeated at the polls.


An Independent People’s Tribunal was convened in March, 2007 in order to assess the pervasive state of communalism in India. Its findings have clearly shown that most ‘forms of communal violence are engendered by creation and perpetration of a particular worldview that can legitimately be termed fascist’. Over 300 victims and activists from 17 Indian states came to relate their experiences to this tribunal before a jury of eminent personalities noted for their role in the struggle for communal harmony. Among many conduits of the majoritarian fascist worldview, the Tribunal identified the Indian vernacular and English language press and media. Through both sins of commission and omission they fabricate and exaggerate instances of violence against Hindus which help sharpen the intensity of the riots.


Fabrication of the figure of the enemy constitutes a large portion of all fascist propaganda and agenda. I came across a reference to the times in Europe describing the unbearable pressure on the Jews to leave Germany and Austria. Emigration meant replenishing the Reich’s coffers through despoiling the Jews. ‘Once emigration had taken place, the emigrant was classified as an enemy of the Reich’ and any remaining property of the Jew was seized. In 1965 Pakistan adapted this imported concept in the aftermath of an India-Pakistan armed skirmish and enacted the Enemy Property Act, a thin veneer of law for grabbing the property of fleeing Hindus. The ‘black law’ was widely expected to be repealed when in 1972 the new government was established in Bangladesh, a nation born out of a bloody struggle of liberation against Pakistani military aggression with a promise of banishing communalism embedded in its idealism.


But the idealism of the War of Liberation, whose spirit was behind the framing of the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh as a secular nation, took repeated thrashing at the hands of successive military dictatorships and autocratic rules by democratically elected governments. The constitution got badly mangled and has remained so without amends. Most of the articles, clauses, and provisions that guarantee individual freedom and equal protection of law have been crossed out. Wiped out are the articles that prohibit the formation of religion-based political parties. The fascism-inspired Enemy Property Act was not only not repealed, but in a new garb it was reinstated as Vested Property Act. The implementation of this law turned out to be a gainful tool of greedy politicians for asserting control and supremacy of the majority over the Hindu minority, or the so-called ‘enemy’.


A recently published book, Deprivation of Hindu Minority in Bangladesh (2008), describes how 1.2 million household and 6 million people belonging to the Hindu communities have been directly and severely affected by the Vested Property Act. In the ‘Foreword’ of the book, M Gholam Rabbani, a former justice of the Apellate Division of the Supreme Court, wistfully draws attention to the articles in the constitution that uphold the principle that ‘all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.’


It is a futile reminder, alas, in the current atmosphere of the country. Under an Emergency Rule imposed by an unelected interim government backed by the military, there is a curtailment of free press, free assembly and free political discussion. Reports of sporadic arson attacks on indigenous tribal people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts trickle in in the mainstream news media usually with caveat from a spokesman for the ruling regime saying something about innocents caught in the crossfire in a vague but ongoing ‘war on terror’. It is no secret that the regular infiltrations of Bengali settlers receive support from the Bangladesh military in these expeditions of land-grabbing from the tribal homesteads.


‘Might is right’ may have been judged as a formula for lawlessness in some other era in these South Asian countries or in this era in another country. But in the subcontinent ‘might’ is figured into a peculiar formulation of ‘democracy’ and wherever ‘might’ is exercised with intent to brutalise a weaker segment of society the act is decriminalised by the governing authorities as the ‘rule of the majority’. I assume that the factory workers in Karachi who lynchesd Jagdish had taken part in the recently held elections in Pakistan which was praised by the international watchers as a fair one.


When Mohandas K Gandhi remarked that the real test of democracy is the way it treats its (religious, linguistic, ethnic, etc.) minorities, he had no idea that the chief minister of his own state of Gujarat would regale in a genocide of religious minority and be re-elected five years later riding the outcome of that carnage. What he probably had in mind was that Hitler was popularly elected in a democratic election.

Posted 15 June 2008


Source: New Age, Bangladesh