Chak 44, Minorities and breeding extremism
There’s a crisis looming in the horizon of Chak 44 in District Mandi Bahauddin, and it is distressingly similar to the storm that hit Gojra and Joseph Colony.
A young Christian man has been accused of watching a blasphemous video on his cell phone, and consequently, the entire Christian community of Chak 44 is staring down the barrel of a radical Islamist gun; preparing itself for anything from exodus to execution.
According to the Christian residents, local Muslims demand that the community hands over the accused to them, so they may burn him alive in front of the church. This is no mob ‘justice’. There is no justice without a trial. There is no justice in torture. There is no justice in harassing and threatening a whole community of Christian families.
These aren’t hollow threats. It’s happened before in Kot Radha Kishan, to a Christian couple beaten and burned alive in a brick kiln. It’s happened many times. A nation that gasps and blushes at Qandeel Baloch’s latest video has little difficulty keeping its head high through a mortifying crisis like the one unfolding Chak 44. Is there even a little shame to be felt? Tell me, dear television: how has our Islamic Republic wronged its non-Muslim minorities this week?
Well, this week is particularly ignominious, and I fear my face isn’t coming out of my collar anytime soon. The Christian residents of a small village face the collective wrath of the local Muslim community which is not only threatening the Christians, but also boycotting them. Almost half of the Christian population has left its homes, as the community is evacuating its sons and daughters for fear of sudden onslaught. Those who remain, do so at a great risk to their lives and property. Some claim they have to travel all the way to Mandi Bahauddin city to get supplies and groceries, as local Muslim businesses won’t sell them any.
As always, the focus of my writing is not the extremist outliers, like those threatening to burn a man alive. The situation will be universally condemned. Rest assured; there will be hundreds of thousands of apologists dousing the righteous outrage with statements like, “The Christians brought it onto themselves by not complying with the mob’s demands”. Or they may assert that the young man who allegedly viewed – not ‘created’, but simply ‘viewed’ – blasphemous content, is equally responsible for the crisis. But the situation would still be condemned in minced-words and dispassionate head shakes.
No, I’d rather address the self-assured ‘good’ Muslims of Pakistan, who have determined that they have no role to play in a socio-political system that is the bane of the non-Muslim. My task is make uncomfortable those who profit from a culture where ‘being Muslim’ is synonymous with ‘being decent’, while ‘kaafir’ is an egregious epithet. My wish is to communicate with those who have decided that oppression exists in isolated villages and districts where the light of the educated elite doesn’t shine, when it is in fact the exacerbation of a malady that exists everywhere. What the Christian residents of Chak 44 face, is a fresh bout of pain in a body that has not been well for a very long time.
I understand that it is distressing, even outrageous, to see ourselves as ‘privileged’ in a third-world country where most of us – Muslim or otherwise – do not lead particularly cushy lives under the shadow of neoliberalism. But consider the myriad of benefits made available to you, as a Muslim that a non-Muslim Pakistani doesn’t. Who among us all has the privilege of having his or her belief system being upheld as the state’s official religion, to be used as a template for all law-making? When was the last time GT road was decorated with images of Hindu art, rather than Islamic art, using state funds? And whose religious pilgrimages are being most actively facilitated or subsidized by the state?
These are not the most compelling examples of systemic bias that I could name, but they happen to among the most tangible ones. As we dig deeper into both written and unwritten laws that govern our nation, there is a harrowing degree of prejudice to be exposed which I cannot possibly shoe-horn into one article with about a thousand-word limit.
We are not the bad guys, we convince ourselves. Okay. So we aren’t the ones who light the torches, and pull the triggers. So perhaps we aren’t the ones who equally distribute blame among the victim and the attacker when Christians are lynched, ironically, in the name of what we revere as the religion of peace. And maybe we’re not the ones who deny the kind of suffering that is unique to Pakistani minorities; and belittle their tragedies, and tragedies-in-making, by glibly adding that the ‘majority’ is suffering just as much. Just as much. Right, because if I had a rupee for every time a Pakistani Muslim was threatened, driven out of his home, or killed for insulting Ganesh, I’d possibly be one rupee richer. If we are not all that, then we are still the beneficiaries of a lopsided system that we didn’t personally build.
Consequently, rights movements spend less time catering to the politico economic needs of the minorities, and invest more energy into keeping the majority’s ego from taking a hit; rebranding the privileged class, as the class of saviours. The modus operandi is to seduce the majority, wait patiently for us to develop a modicum of sympathy for the oppressed, and encourage us to come and rescue the oppressed (from ourselves, basically, but don’t mention that as the prime directive to avoid trampling on our collective ego).
I’d like to say that the Muslim majority must join hands and protect the embattled Christian minority in Mandi Bahauddin and elsewhere in Pakistan. But I won’t. Because the question isn’t what the Muslim majority must do, but rather, what the Muslim majority must stop doing.
All we need to do is ask the right question and honestly evaluate our own attitudes. Once that’s done, th