No cosmetic dressings, no lip-service medications, no half-baked measures will do
In a display of the worst form of religiosity, two minor Hindu girls, Reena and Raveena, were kidnapped from Ghotki, Sindh, forcibly converted to Islam and married off with two Muslim men. According to the latest information available, they were first shifted to Rahim Yar Khan and later to Gujranwala.
As is the routine, the prime minister has asked the governments of Sindh and Punjab to recover the girls and lodge appropriate report for the criminals to be apprehended and punished.
This is not the first time that a sinister incident of this kind has taken place and may also not be the last time either. I say so because the germs of religiosity have sunk in deep across the societal echelons and no concrete measures have so far been envisaged to eradicate the pervasive malaise. On the contrary, there are indications that, but for some cosmetic window-dressing, nothing is in the pipeline to arrest further spread to this scourge.
Religion, as I understand it, does not provision any forced conversions. In fact, Islam clearly forbids any compulsion in faith: “To you your religion and to me mine”.
Consequently, I don’t understand that by what stretch of religious pronouncement, or by what diktat of law are such heinous acts committed? And how are individuals allowed to perpetuate these inhuman misdemeanours and still find refuge behind one orchestration or the other, one religious pontiff or the other. Without the slightest shame, or an expression of remorse, most of these offenders may even return to repeat the barbarity and move on living unhindered a life of unmitigated criminal indulgence.
But, then, such heinous acts don’t bring infamy to some individuals alone. In reality, these constitute an ugly scar on the face of the whole society that continues to allow their perpetration without envisaging and implementing effective remedial measures. There is a palpable fear across the societal divides in tackling such crimes because the arm of the religiosity-laden bands is long. They act with impunity and move around pontificating on the virtues of the kind of religion that should be practised. They do so at the mosques and other such religious sanctuaries where there is little check on their pronouncements. In fact, there is blatant encouragement to continue such sordid indulgence.
And how are individuals allowed to perpetuate these inhuman misdemeanours and still find refuge behind one orchestration or the other, one religious pontiff or the other
I have written often on the issue of religiosity, but the subject requires constant reiteration. If we are to locate that one rationale that the state has bequeathed to the perpetrators, aiders and abettors of such acts, we have to go back to that eventful day in 1949 that witnessed the unfurling of the Objectives Resolution that drew a line separating the Muslims of Pakistan from all others. That was a cruel enactment which took away the dignity of the non-Muslims to call themselves Pakistanis. Instead, they were reduced to being recognised by their faith.
This also rendered the state inherently discriminatory as it could not deal with all its citizens in an equitable manner as pleaded by its founding father from the floor of the same constituent assembly that adopted the Objectives Resolution. This later found its passage into the statute book of the state through its placement at the preamble to the constitution.
States and societies grow and progress by expanding the domain of dialogue and bringing all contentious issues under the scanner of constant review. That, unfortunately, has not been done in Pakistan. Instead, the parameters of dialogue have been constantly and consistently shrinking with most of the key issues impeding the growth of the state having been pushed outside the scope of any healthy and productive discussion. If some brave souls dare do so, they may be hauled up for having committed blasphemy of another kind, even becoming a victim of locally-grown vigilante justice.
In the process, we have failed in fulfilling the founding principles of our creation whereby all citizens of the state were declared to be free in the practice of their faith and were to be treated equally: “You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.
Over seventy-two years, we have helped this country in divorcing the lofty ideals of its creation and degenerate to becoming a discriminatory, intolerant and bigoted state that accords respect and stature to its citizens not in keeping with their achievements, but the manner in which they seek access to their creator. What an incredibly shameful and disgusting narrative in this age and time. When the rest of humanity is devising ever new methods of progress through convergence, we are busy in enacting new ways of further aggravating the divide among our citizens, even banishing some from the domain of belief altogether for which we have absolutely no religious, moral or legal licence.
The slide does not appear to be stopping anywhere. The state may be able to apprehend the culprits in the case of the abduction of Reena and Raveena, their forced conversion to Islam and marriage to Muslim men, but that will not put an end to this heinous act being repeated again – some other time, somewhere else. This travesty has penetrated deep into the self-righteous psyche of the nation and they believe that they would be earning their path to heaven by taking recourse to such criminal acts.
Now, does our leadership have the mettle to stand up and declare such acts as un-Islamic as, indeed, they are, and move on to punishing the criminals appropriately so as to create deterrence for others to take heed? Will our leaders move quickly to enact laws that would render punishable all such acts which are directed at taking away the rights of others on the basis of their religious beliefs? Will our leadership have the resolve to revisit the discriminatory laws that we have enacted in the past and see how to annul/amend them so that the rationale in the hands of the religiosity-driven fanatics is taken away?
Undertaking these steps will not be an easy task in a society which has long cherished its much-trumpeted religious enslavement. It may find it impossible to live by way of granting equal freedom and opportunity to all citizens of the country irrespective of their faith and belief. Such corrective step would need to encompass all laws and regulations of the state to bring them in conformity with the accepted principles of being equal constituents in the annals of societal and human development.
Let us also face the reality that no cosmetic dressings, no lip-service medications and no half-baked measures will suffice to give the people, from across divides, even a fighting chance of moving forward on the road to emancipation and progress. If a quick remedy is not found and people remain hanging onto the unbearable weight of this debasement, it’ll inevitably plunge them into a bottomless pit of degeneration.
Thenceforth, they will be rendered irrelevant, aptly classified as belonging to a tribe of the ones who refuse to see the light and, instead, prefer to live in the dungeons of darkness. This will ultimately spell their doom.