- Remember Jinnah’s promise?
The plight of Pakistan’s Hindus is not an unknown thing. It’s been covered by both local and international media from time to time. Sometime ago, the very well-known Aljazeera covered the story of Pakistan’s Hindu community; reporting it in following words:
“Many Pakistani Hindus flee to India to escape religious persecution, only to find even more hardship.”
The report talked about those Hindus who left Pakistan to lead their lives in India hoping that life would be easier for them in a Hindu-majority country only to be welcomed by more adversities. In words of one of the migrants:
“We don’t live like humans [in India]”
The plight of these people is not only hurtful and a matter of global shame for Pakistan but also an embarrassing reminder that our state has failed to protect the rights of our minorities, the promise that was made to them when Pakistan came into being.
This painful story reminded me of my own experience of interacting with the youth of our Hindu community sometime back in an inter-faith harmony camp. They shared how their girls had been abducted and converted to Islam and made to marry Muslim men forcefully without their will. Most of the times, it were the so-called religious figures of the locality that were involved in such crimes. That is where the greatest irony lies, because if we talk about Islam, it nowhere teaches to impose your beliefs on others:
“There is no compulsion in religion.” ~ Al-Quran
Another teen told:
“Whenever there is a cricket match between India and Pakistan, my Muslim acquaintances assume that I must be supporting India because I am a Hindu. It hurts to hear such comments. I am a Pakistani, not an Indian.”
In the camp, I had witnessed the same Hindu youth expressing their love for their land despite all that they have to suffer in their lives only because they are Hindus. It literally made my heart cry to hear them chant ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ with such zeal and enthusiasm even when they are not treated so well in their own Pakistan.
Sharing their practices of inter-faith harmony, they told how their women discontinue wearing sindoor during Muharram – some of them even wear black clothes — to show their respect for the month and be part of the Muslim community’s mourning. What a beautiful act of co-existence that deserves nothing else but praises and appreciation!
A short camp promoting inter-faith harmony gave them so much of love and respect that actually made them feel equal citizens of the country, to such an extent that one of them expressed his delight in the following words:
“We feel so good here. We do not feel neglected or discriminated. We wish to be treated in the same way in our country where no person is looked down upon based on their religious beliefs.”
These Hindu participants of the camp mostly belonged to the rural areas of interior Sindh. The ones living in urban areas like Karachi have comparatively far better stories to tell where they even blog about being happy and proud Pakistanis. Their stories give some hope that things can be made better for the rest as well. But of course, it requires effort, willingness and sincerity by the state to make the lives of its citizens prosperous.
Steps like the recent approval of Hindu Marriage Bill prove that the state can indeed work for the prosperity of its minorities though it is unfortunate that it still took us seven decades to come up with such a bill.
Minorities of any country are significant in making their societies more inclusive and tolerant where they bring colours of co-existence in the countries they live in. Pakistan is yet to come to the point where it can be called a completely inclusive society. But it is not unachievable.
There are also other groups of minorities that have their own grievances among which, the Hindus who are the biggest minority of Pakistan are still facing miseries after decades of Pakistan’s creation which should be a matter of great worry. Pakistan itself was created because a group of people with a common religious belief were discriminated against and kept deprived of equal rights based on religion only. Hence, Pakistan was never meant to be repeating the same mistake with its own people. Pakistan was meant to be better, and it has to be better. For what was promised 70 years ago when Jinnah said “We are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State” must not remain unfulfilled. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the rights of its citizens, which also means working hard to keep Pakistan from becoming anything closer to a hardliner state. After all, letting its citizens leave the country because of persecutions should be the last thing any inclusive country should be tolerating.