Persecution of minorities in a country that was created for a minority
Reportedly an elderly woman and two children belonging to a minority community died of suffocation from smoke when their house was put on fire by an enraged crowd at Gujranwala on 28th July while others present on the scene cheered the perpetrators of the crime in approval of their dastardly act. That was the exhibition of an ultimate bestiality. Unfortunately this was not the first incident of this nature as the country has witnessed a string of such gory enactments where the members of the minority communities have been the victim of the wrath of the religious fanatics.
The carnage of the Christian community at Gojra in August 2009 would put to shame even Adolf Hitler, the architect of “The Holocaust”, for having underperformed. The most sordid aspect of this gory incident was that those who were lynched and whose houses were subjected to arson, were not at all involved in the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. The architect of this mayhem was a pesh imam of the village mosque who incited people to avenge the desecration of Holy Quran. The members of Sipah-e-Sehaba from Jhang also joined the local people in the killing spree and burning of properties in the presence of the law enforcing agencies.
A similar attack on a locality of Christians near Badami Bagh, Lahore, resulted in a number of killings and destruction of the properties. Lahore also witnessed an attack on the worship place of a minority community where the gun battle raged for almost a day. These are some of the major incidents of mob justice and religious bigotry. This phenomenon has almost become a regular feature and innumerable members of the minority communities have been and continue to be killed through mob justice. These incidents indicate how far our society has become afflicted with xenophobia against minority communities.
This pattern of persecution of minorities at the social level has persisted ever since the creation of Pakistan. However the problem assumed alarming proportions during the 1980s after the promulgation of Hudood and Blasphemy Laws. The instigators motivated by the religious bigotry, personal prejudice, self gain or professional rivalry have used blasphemy allegations with convenience. In many cases complaints are filed at the insistence of local clerics or outfits specialising in hate against minorities.
According to the statistics collected by human rights groups, at least 1,300 of persons have been accused under these laws since 1987. The scourge of hate against minorities has brought bad name to the country at the global level. It is a matter of national shame that the issue was on the agenda of 12th regular session of UN General Assembly Council held on 14th September, 2009, and invariably formed part of EU Council deliberations of human rights. The intensity of the hate syndrome can be gauged from the fact that in 1996 Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, a judge of the Lahore High Court who acquitted a blasphemy accused during his service, was killed in his office as the killer thought that the judge had committed blasphemy by acquitting the accused.
Granted that the desecration of the Holy Quran or showing disrespect to the Holy Prophet is a very emotional issue for any Muslim and undoubtedly constitutes an act of blasphemy if committed deliberately by an individual or an organisation with an explicit purpose to offend the Muslim community. But even then it provides no justification whatsoever to the people to take the law in their own hands and perpetrate mob justice on the offenders. There are laws in the country to deal with such matters and it is a responsibility of the state to initiate action against the accused person or persons whatever the case may be and the accused also have the right to be given a chance to defend themselves and prove their innocence. That is how the Islamic system of justice and the law of the land envisage dispensing of justice. Targeting minorities is absolutely against the teachings of the Holy Quran. The Quran enjoins the Muslims to do justice and shun hatred against other communities in these words: “O ye who believe, be steadfast witness for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly, that is nearer to your duty.”
Not only that, the syndrome of hate and revenge against minorities is also a negation of the declaration made in the Pakistan Resolution and the vision of the Quaid and as such this behaviour is tantamount to striking at the very foundation of Pakistan. The government and the civil society have to stand up and refuse to be a hostage to the bizarre brand of Islam bandied around by religious fanatics and militant outfits. A loud and clear message should go out to them that there would be zero tolerance against their creed of hate and violence.
As a first step the government should ensure to make an example out of those who are found guilty of fomenting and executing the acts of persecution against minorities on allegations of blasphemy. This should synchronise with the efforts to immediately bringing all the religious seminaries in the mainstream of our education system and revision of their curricula accordingly. There is also a need to revisit the blasphemy law which undoubtedly has contributed to the occurrence of such incidents .We, as a nation, also need to fight the menace on the ideological front. Here the ulemas and media can play a very significant role in erasing the bad influence of the ideologies preached by the religious extremists and creating awareness among the masses about the true spirit of Islam and its emphasis on building a harmonious society, boasting peace and tranquility as its hallmarks.
Those who preach hatred against minorities and advocate mob justice against the alleged blasphemers are the real enemies of the country and the threat that they pose to the unity and integrity of the nation is much greater than the external dangers to our security and territorial integrity. We shall be able to quell the external threats with greater confidence if we are strong internally. Any slackness on the part of the government or the civil society towards that end would have disastrous consequences for our very existence. Perhaps it would be a good idea for the government to take the initiative to highlight the obligations of the society and state towards minorities as part of the Independence Day celebrations.