Minority day

The white part of our flag has for years been seen as an ‘ode’ to ‘minorities’ – one would assume religious minorities for the most part – that are also on paper at least an equal part of Pakistan. That white part has been scarred, tarred, bloodied over the years by attacks, discrimination, dangerous legislation and general apathy towards minority communities. Today, August 11, is Pakistan’s National Minority Day. On this day in 1947, the country’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah told the Constituent Assembly: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” That should have been the nation-state’s ethos. But today, 75 years later, Pakistan would be an unrecognizable place for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a country with few and ever-shrinking spaces for minorities. Whether by design or default, the state in the widest sense appears either complicit or collusive in the persecution of religious minorities. Over the last few years, there has been an uptick in migration of Hindu and Christian families from Pakistan to other neighbouring countries. In Sindh, the forced conversion of Hindu girls and young women is still rampant. Several years ago, a bill aimed at reducing forced conversions was vehemently opposed by segments of society. Besides this, members from minority communities often become an easy target for profiteers who weaponize blasphemy laws in private conflicts.

And all the while this goes on, what we get from our lawmakers is a collective shrug of the shoulders, an acknowledgment that the sense of entitlement is so deep and strong that there is nothing that can stand against it. In the past few months, there have been coordinated attacks against places of worship of a few minority communities, and yet there hasn’t been any meaningful step towards putting an end to this hatred. It’s on us as a people to turn Pakistan into a safe country where all religions are respected, and people of all faiths are welcome unconditionally. At the moment, the compass of extremism and intolerance is now aligned in the direction of darkness and obscurantism and the state appears either powerless or unwilling to challenge that alignment. There will be the usual ritualized hand-wringing and protestations to the effect that all faiths are citizens of Pakistan. Yet the reality is that time and time again the forces of law-and-order fail to deploy in defence or protection of religious minorities and the words uttered by those who represent the state prove to be hollow and valueless. How then can a member of any minority faith feel safe and secure in the Pakistan of today?

Published at The News on 11th August 2023

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