While you and I were casting our vote

  • Still, one must hope

To depend on being in the majority to obtain one’s rights is to depend on shifting sand. Everyone is in the minority at some time, in some place or another.

We all travel and find ourselves a small part of the larger whole. When that happens we depend on the majority to display a degree of decency. Those whose sense of propriety calls for the wearing of the face veil expect the governments of foreign countries to allow them to wear it. When for example Denmark banned the veil, those people protest.

We expect time off to pray, and a day off on Eid. Most countries allow that, we take it in our stride. When there is a transgression, when for example the Dutch government distanced itself from Geert Wilders and refused to stop the offensive cartoon competition, sensibilities were ruffled here in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. The Foreign Office (by which I mean the Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi, and not General Bajwa) lodged a formal protest with the Netherlands.

If there is an absence of forbearance and no authority or arbiter to combat the result, there would be no human being left alive in this world, because every majority would wipe out the minority. For this reason, and since there will always be instances of intolerance and injustice, an arbiter is required. The job is handed over to a neutral entity, a human rights organisation, and depending on beliefs a divine Arbiter over all.

Arbiters in the real sense of the word are against violence, and for tolerance and peaceful co-existence. It means that no group has the right to harm another. It is the arbiter’s job to make sure of that, and in the case of human arbiters to take measures to prevent such harm.

The Convention of Human Rights recognises the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, and declares that these should be protected by the rule of law. Member States pledge to cooperate in achieving this aim. Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention of Human Rights. Other than calling itself an Islamic Republic, under the rules of which as well all humans are equal.

When a group of persons takes the law into its hands and starts hurting others is the time for the end of forbearance in their case. That is the time to take firm action against them

The government of each country that is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is given the role of ensuring that all persons are treated alike without discrimination, and that no person or group of persons within its borders suffers violence and injustice. It must ensure that all citizens of the country are allowed freedom of religion, and the freedom to participate in government. That means that every citizen — without discrimination — has the right to elect representatives to the government in regularly held elections.

And yet, in the recent elections in Pakistan, that was not the case. The country’s Ahmadiyya community was unable to cast a vote, and here is why:

To vote members of the Ahmadiyya community must declare either that they are non-Muslim – which they do not believe they are – or they must declare that they consider the founder of their community to be a liar – which again they do not believe he was. Just as by not wearing a veil a woman who believes this is part of her faith must be in tacit agreement that her faith is flawed.

That means that while you and I were casting our vote, taking our right to do so as a given — some 500,000 of our fellow citizens were at home, unable to cast their’s, a right that had been promised them by their government when this country was born (see Jinnah’s speech) and when this country signed the Convention of Human Rights. It means that the government has reneged on its promise to its citizens. 

It also means that in the light of the violence being committed against this community – there have been several attacks this year alone on the Ahmadiyya community and there are always attacks on this and other minority groups, the government has failed in its job of protecting its citizens.

Well, we have a new government now, new persons who will in all likelihood continue to renege on that promise. To make deals with terrorists and extremists, to invite them to the table for talks and give them financial grants – who honestly expects that to help?

When a group of persons takes the law into its hands and starts hurting others is the time for the end of forbearance in their case. That is the time to take firm action against them.

Still, one must hope. That behind all this talk of ‘naya Pakistan’, austerity and ‘change’ something honest and constructive will take place, and these words are not being used as popular catchphrases and a smokescreen to hide the same old Pakistan from view.