Pakistan and religious freedom

The Foreign Office has rejected the report by US Commission on International Religious Freedom for being biased. It went on to say that Pakistan was a multicultural pluralistic country where people of various faiths lived together in peace and harmony. Frankly I could care less about the USCIRF’s report but I am very disappointed in our blanket bald denial of what is a fact in Pakistan.

Before I outline the continuous denial of fundamental rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, let me state clearly for everyone: I am a proud Pakistani citizen who believes in the idea of Pakistan. Everything I have written in this newspaper and elsewhere has been with this objective: a progressive democratic and inclusive Pakistan as envisaged by Mr Jinnah, who in my opinion was the most extraordinary 20th century leader and is unquestionably my greatest hero and idol. It is because I endeavour to follow Jinnah, I cannot lie about the facts on the ground in Pakistan for honesty was the essence of the man. Pakistan today is one of the most horrible places on earth when it comes to religious freedom. When one points out this simple fact, one is confronted by the many failures of India. I am sure India is extremely horrible but we separated from India because we wanted to be better than them. The pont that India too is bad is neither here nor there. India is a badly majoritarian and caste-ist society and as such no model for us to follow or aspire to. It may have a secular constitution more or less but it is not a secular country by any stretch of imagination. So shall we please stop citing India’s examples and failings?

Discrimination against religious minorities is built into the very structure of the Constitution. Enough has been written on the fact that offices of the president and the prime minister are reserved for Muslims alone. This is a negation of the principle of equality of citizenship. Saying that the Queen of United Kingdom has to be a Protestant is not a good answer because the President of Pakistan is not the head of the Islamic Church. Yet this discrimination is only the tip of the iceberg. Discrimination permeates through our constitution and the legal system. Non-Muslims are not just second class citizens but most of them are just a level above the sub-human status. Then there are the Ahmadis, who had so valiantly supported the Pakistan Movement and suffered at the hands of religious parties because of it and who are not even given the right to profess or practise their faith in accordance with their conscience in Pakistan today. An Ahmadi in Pakistan can be jailed for simply saying Assalamualaikum or writing his name outside his house. Believe it or not this part of the Pakistani Penal Code. It is the most incredible outrage in the name of the faith and if that was not enough, disgraced judge of the High Court, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, gave a judgment last year which is more suited to Nazi Germany than a modern democracy such as ours. Ahmadis now have to give an affidavit saying that they are non-Muslims. The Constitution declared them non-Muslims for the purposes of law in 1974. The 1984 Ordinance criminalized their self identification as Muslims. Now NADRA wants them to file affidavits declaring themselves non-Muslims, which goes against the very grain of their religious belief. It is also unconstitutional under Article 20 of the Constitution but who cares about fundamental rights in our valiant judiciary. That is not all of course. The judgment alluded to special identification of Ahmadis by directing all Ahmadis to adopt Qadiani or Mirzai as their last name. Slow clap for Foreign Office’s claim that fundamental rights are safeguarded by a vigilant judiciary which is so outrageous that one wonders if the draftsmen at the Foreign Office were taught by Goebbels himself. This is not religious freedom.

Until and unless we honour every son and daughter of Pakistan no matter what his or her faith is, the reports such as the one by the USCIRF will keep coming out and showing us the mirror

Things are certainly not hunky dory for Pakistanis of Hindu or Christian faiths either. The abduction and forced conversions of Hindu girls continue unabated. Yes, it continues even in Sindh – the most multicultural part of Pakistan, where the Pakistan Peoples Party under a very enlightened Bilawal Bhutto is doing what it can to improve the lot of minorities. PPP truly does deserve applause for returning Dalit and Hindu senators and MNAs to the parliament. I am sure that PPP realizes that more needs to be done for religious minorities all over Pakistan.

What about Christians? Pakistan does not even realize what we owe to our Christian brethren. Christians had stood steadfastly with Muslim League during the Pakistan Movement just like the Ahmadis. Yet they have had to face countless humiliations and outrages in our increasingly intolerant and bigoted country. Most of the cases filed against Christians under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code emanate from property and personal disputes. Then you have government departments advertising sanitary posts for them exclusively. One applauds Pakistan Army for retracting one such advertisement but it should not have been published in the first place. Christians, again like the Ahmadis, have served Pakistan in every walk of life. The finest judge in our judicial history was Justice Cornelius. Some of our finest fighter pilots were Christians. Pakistan’s space agency owes everything to a Christian and an Ahmadi. Then there are the contributions Christians have made to education. Who amongst us has not had a dedicated Pakistani Christian teacher. My earliest Islamiat teacher was a Christian by the name of Innocent Joseph. He taught me about the eternal humanism of our great faith. In other fields, like business and technology, you have rising women entrepreneurs like Danielle Sharaf who has kept Pakistan’s flag flying high around the world, including the White House. How do we repay them? We keep the poorest and most marginalized of them on death row on trumped up charges. We burn their neighbourhoods and lynch them.

One must applaud the decision of the Punjab government to put up a statue of the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Lahore Fort. Ranjit Singh was the quintessential proto-Pakistani – a true son of the Indus. I wish we would have honoured Bhagat Singh as well for whom even our founding father spoke up. An attempt to rename the Shadman Chowk in his honour was scuttled after violent protests by hatemongers and religious bigots. I wish at some point we will honour Dr Abdus Salam and Sir Zafrullah Khan as well, the former being our greatest physicist and the latter being the person to whom we owe the UN tesolutions on Kashmir not to mention the Lahore Resolution. Until and unless we honour every son and daughter of Pakistan no matter what his or her faith is, the reports such as the one by the USCIRF will keep coming out and showing us the mirror. We must truly be a multicultural and inclusive country for that is the real raison d etre of Pakistan. Till then we will continue to be humiliated at home and abroad. May we all live to see Jinnah’s Pakistan one day.

OP-ED by Yasser Latif Hamdani @theRealYLH

Read original post HERE.

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