Minorities have been let down by the institutions
If we do not constructively analyse Pakistan’s shortcomings publicly, we will never be able to progress. The problem is that many of Pakistan’s issues are too sensitive to discuss in the open. Whether it’s gender, sexual abuse, or even family planning, society is still hesitant to acknowledge and tackle these serious issues.
Throughout Pakistan’s history, the State has turned a blind eye to the plight of its minorities. It is the State’s job to protect the safety and dignity of all its citizens, regardless of caste, colour, creed or religion. Safe to say, it has fallen woefully short.
If we step back, and dispassionately analyse this, we can explain why the State is reluctant to legislate and speak for minorities. In my estimation, those at the helm are reticent to openly and consistently side with minorities, because they fear that Pakistan’s ‘identity’ could come into question. Muhammad Ali Jinnah made it very clear in his speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 that minorities have equal rights in Pakistan. So why the confusion? Why is Pakistan not ready to accept minorities as equals? Answer? Self-appointed clerics of organised religion who have always and continue to hold sway in society. The system has allowed obscurant clerics to operate and wield their misinterpretation of Islam throughout the country. They have successfully seeped into the psyche of our masses. The beliefs that people hold in the name of Islam are shocking and have nothing to do with the faith. Islam teaches us to not only accept but to embrace differences.
The problem is that when one passionately believes in an ideology or religion, especially without exposure or education, one runs the risk of abandoning critical thinking, thus leaving no room for humility, which leads to intolerance.
What we need to understand is that group identity has always taken precedence over individual identity, and there is no shortage of evidence which suggests that the primacy of group identity has led to tremendous conflict in Pakistan and across the world. Being an Islamic State does not give Muslims leverage over minorities. That was never the objective. However, misguided clerics, using religion, have misled the masses into believing that their identity is paramount, and those who do not share it are somehow a threat. Clerics may not always outrightly call for violence against minorities, but it is the subliminal messages through their teachings that creates a toxic and narrow mindset.
Another reason why minority rights are not a regular feature of public discourse, is because we have failed to bring it to the public’s consciousness. Political corruption for instance, is constantly highlighted across the media. While it is imperative to hold elected officials accountable, it is equally, if not more important to shed light on Pakistani citizens living in squalor and being treated like vermin. We are still at a point where a politician getting done for corruption, or outwitting our hysterical neighbour, excites us more. However, developing a narrative and system that significantly and continuously improves the human condition for all should stir up the same passion. There is a serious problem if the ideology that defines your existence is being misinterpreted, and in turn leads to the subjugation of large groups of people. If the spirit of Islam is genuinely important to Pakistan, the media along with civil society need to make a concerted effort to continuously bring this subject to the fore.
There are promising signs, but a lot more is needed. To achieve respect and tolerance for minorities will require amendments in legislation and most importantly in mindsets
The institutions of democracy and society have let minority communities down. Discrimination is embedded in our system, and unfortunately, many of our people. Why do you think the current leadership, even though the leader knew it was wrong, was forced to remove Atif Mian from the Economic Council? That may be difficult to digest, but it is the truth.
Other than the dismissal of Atif Mian, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been vocal about the treatment of minorities. He has also taken action against a provincial minster who made derogatory remarks against the Hindu community. These are all promising signs, but a lot more is needed. To achieve respect and tolerance for minorities will require amendments in legislation and most importantly in mindsets. It is a long uphill battle, no doubt, but the time is now to work together and make the rights for minorities a core part of our narrative.