Who is safer where?
A question for the internationally recognised terrorist, ideologue and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack, Hafiz Saeed, resident of Lahore, who has just offered sanctuary in Pakistan to our superstar Shahrukh Khan. Pakistan was carved out in 1947 to ensure security for this subcontinent’s Muslims in a separate homeland. Why, six decades later, has Pakistan become the most insecure place for Muslims in the world? Why are more Muslims being killed each day, on an average, in Pakistan than in the rest of the Muslim world put together?
This continual mass murder is not being done by Hindus and Sikhs, who were once proud residents of Punjab and Sindh but are now merely a near-invisible trace. Some Pakistani leaders even express pride in the fact that non-Muslims, who constituted around 20 percent of the population in 1947, have been reduced to less than 2 percent. In contrast, the percentage of Muslims in secular India has increased since independence. Hindus and Sikhs are not killing Muslims in Pakistan; Muslims are murdering Muslims, and on a scale unprecedented in the history of Punjab, the North West Frontier (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Sindh. Why?
There have been riots in India, some of them horrendous. But the graph is one of ebb from the peak of 1947. When a riot does occur, as in Maharashtra recently, civil society and media stand up to demand accountability, and the ground pressure of a secular democracy forces even reluctant governments to cooperate in punishment of the guilty. When Shias, or other sectarians, are mass-murdered in Pakistan on a regular basis, the killers celebrate a “duty” well done.
History’s paradox is evident: Muslims today are safer in India than in Pakistan. The “muhajirs” who left the cities of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1947 would have been far safer in Lucknow, Patna and dozens of cities in their original land than they are now in the tense streets and by-lanes of Karachi.
Could Shahrukh Khan have become an international heartthrob if his parents had joined the emigration in 1947? Since he is talented he would have gained some recognition on the fringes of elite society, but he could not have become a central presence of a popular culture that has seeped and spread to every tehsil and village. Nor is Shahrukh the only Muslim superstar in Mumbai’s film world; Salman Khan is bigger than him. Shahrukh, Salman and Amir Khan do not hide their identity through an alias; their birth name is their public persona.
The television set in my office serves two main purposes: it shows cricket and offers access to an FM radio station which plays old film songs. A song by Muhammad Rafi was on the air while the previous paragraph was being written: Man re tu kahe na dheer dhare, O nirmohi moh na jaane, jinka moh kare…Janm maran ka mel hai sapna….koi na sangh marey… It is a beautiful classic, written by Sahir Ludhianvi. Muhammad Rafi, as his name confirms, was a Muslim. He was born in 1924 in western Punjab and came to Mumbai as a very young man in search of dreams. Those dreams had not come true by 1947. Rafi had the option of returning to Lahore. He chose to remain in Mumbai, and brought his family in what might be called the reverse direction. It was a wise choice. Mumbai made Rafi’s voice immortal. Rafi, like India, was the distillation of many inspirations.
Hafiz Saeed and his ilk possess cramped, virulent minds which condemn the ragas upon which our subcontinent’s music, both classic and popular, is based, as inimical. They want to destroy a shared Hindu-Muslim cultural heritage in which Muslim maestros took classical music to splendid heights under the patronage of padishahs, rajahs and nawabs. Instead of art, they possess vitriol, even as the violence they spawn turns Pakistan into a laboratory of chaos. They call themselves guardians of their nation, but they are in fact regressive theocrats who are shredding the Pakistan that Jinnah imagined.
There is an answer to the opening question. Extremists who reduce faith to a fortress do not understand a simple truth: faith cannot be partitioned. Islam was a revelation for mankind; it cannot be usurped by a minor tract of geography. Nations are created by and for men, within boundaries of language or culture or tribe. Religion comes from God; it is not a political tool for human ambition. Those who equate religion with nation distort the first and destroy the second. Pakistan has become a battlefield for dysfunctional forces because theocrats will not permit it to become a rational state.
Logic suggests a reciprocal offer: Pakistani Muslims would be safer in India. But that offer cannot extend to Hafiz Saeed. His mission is to be India’s adversary. What he does not understand is that he is really Pakistan’s enemy.