Minorities in Pakistan and India

Talking of families and loved ones divided by man-made walls, Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi recalls a relative who refused to move to Pakistan in 1947 like the rest of the extended family simply because there were "too many Muslims out there!"

But there were millions who migrated to the Promised Land from UP, Bihar and other states up North. Millions of Hindus did the same travelling in the opposite direction amid great bloody chaos and unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe that scarred several generations on both sides.

The South largely remained unaffected though. Not many families from the erstwhile State of Hyderabad chose to take the journey probably because it had remained, still ruled by the Nizam, free of chaos all around.

The largest princely state dreamed, absurdly and with grievous consequences, of retaining its independence in the heart of India. Hyderabad paid a terrible price for those delusions of grandeur but that is another story.

Coming back to Pakistan, there were "too many Muslims" in the Islamic republic because it was meant to be the homeland of South Asian Muslims where they could retain their identity and run their own affairs without the fear of being swamped by the majority.

But did the dreamers and architects of Pakistan want to create a tyranny of majority of their own, turning the new nation into a living hell for its minorities, in the words of Kamamatullah Ghori? I wouldn’t think so.

Contrary to his often demonized image, Jinnah envisioned a modern, model Muslim state in which the rights of all, especially its religious minorities, were given ironclad protection in both letter and spirit.

Of course, Pakistan was meant to be an Islamic republic–a citadel of Islam, if you will. It did not however mean that in the eyes of the state and as far as rights and privileges are concerned, some were more equal than others.

Quaid-e-Azam did not live long enough to see his baby grow and reach its full potential. However, he and others from the first line of leadership of Pakistan movement made it abundantly clear what kind of a nation they were building and what Pakistan was and not meant to be.

These historic words of Jinnah have been cited before but they need to be quoted-and again. For they have never been more apt and relevant. Addressing the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947–three days before Pakistan came into existence, he said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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.

"You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."

Jinnah would repeatedly cite the early model of Islamic state under the Prophet himself and in subsequent centuries to drive home his message of tolerance and respect for minorities.

I know all this is nothing new. We have heard it all before. Pakistani commentators, intellectuals and civil society leaders have increasingly been venting their anger and frustration at the way things have been unravelling in the Islamic republic, especially for its marginalized groups.

Indeed, having tackled the issue, ad nauseam, many of these voices have turned hopelessly cynical. And they have every reason to be. Not a day passes without some atrocity or the other targeting totally innocent, unsuspecting people.

The Shia Muslims, who have always been in the forefront in all walks of life-Jinnah himself was one and so are many top Pakistani politicians-find themselves forever under fire, from Karachi to Khyber. Things haven’t been any easier for the Christians and Ahmadis either.

As for the tiny Hindu community, largely on the margins of Pakistani society and almost fearful of attracting too much attention, it finds itself increasingly under siege in the land of its ancestors. From open discrimination to physical attacks and from abductions to forced religious conversions and marriages, a new atrocity seems to be invented to show the community its place.

This week, a poor Hindu couple appeared at a Karachi Press Club seminar with their 6-year old daughter Jumna, who was apparently abducted along with her 10-year old sister Pooja. The young girls were later produced in a court by police as children who had converted to Islam.

"What do children as young as Jumna and Pooja know about Islam or their own religion for that matter that they’d want to convert? Can you accept your daughters forcibly being married to Hindu men?" asked their uncle.

What kind of missionary zeal is this and which religious cause are these people, whoever they are, looking to serve? It is certainly not that of Islam or of Pakistan for that matter. In the past couple of years, there has been a regular stream of Pakistani Hindu families crossing over into India to seek asylum. Their tales of persecution understandably get extensive media coverage, providing much cannon fodder to Hindutva groups.

This is incredibly sad and particularly distressing for Indian Muslims, progressively vulnerable in the face of the rise of the Right. Even as they fret about an uncertain future under the man from Gujarat, they identify with the lot of Pakistan’s minorities.

Indeed, what is going on in Pakistan is not just profoundly tragic for all Pakistanis, it is shameful for Muslims and Islam as well. Western wars and resultant militancy, religious extremism, or lack of effective leadership–whatever the explanation, they cannot be an excuse for the slaughter of innocents and dereliction of duty by the state and society.

Of little comfort is the fact that it is not merely minority groups that are a soft target. No one is safe anywhere-neither in the security of the country’s biggest and ever bustling metropolis nor in the relatively quiet and quaint Quetta.

No wonder many Pakistanis are leaving–those who could afford to and have enough opportunities to do so. Hajrah Mumtaz of Dawn calls them the Ideas People-doctors, scientists, doctors, writers, artists, engineers and other professionals. People who are considered the cream of society, they are abandoning the land they called home in droves–many of them for the second time.

Chris Cork writes about what he calls the Missing, those who are forced by a constant siege within to quietly leave one day: "Escape means leaving behind everything that you have lived and worked for your entire life. You take with you only what will fit inside your baggage allowance. You lock the door as you leave, knowing the key in your hand will never turn the other way again. And you disappear."

Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs – "The minorities of Pakistan are leaking slowly out of innumerable wounds, death by a thousand cuts, every cut inflicted by the knives of intolerance," he wrote.

Quoting an Indian leader in a piece about Pakistan isn’t perhaps the smartest thing to do but it’s rather pertinent here. Jawaharlal Nehru, who led India in crucial post-Independence years, repeatedly emphasized that it is the responsibility of the state and the majority to protect those in minority.

Warning against majoritarian communalism, the first prime minister argued, "It is the responsibility of the dominant community not to use its position in any way which might prejudice the secular ideal of the nation," he warned. (Imagine someone like Modi stepping into those big shoes of his!)

Islamic history itself is full of instances when persecuted minorities found refuge in Muslim lands or were rescued by Muslims-from Caliph Omar to Salahuddin (Saladin) Ayuubi. The Jews and other minorities flourished in Muslim Spain and in the sprawling Ottoman empire when they were being hunted across Europe.

Fear is very democratic. Everyone is vulnerable in a vulnerable society, in his or her own way. Minorities much more so–by their very character and identity. And it is the responsibility of the Pakistani state and every Pakistani to see that they are not just protected but feel protected and safe.

The security and wellbeing of its weakest and vulnerable groups is essential to build a peaceful, progressive and stable society. And this is as true for Pakistan as it is for India.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East based writer and Editor of Caravan online magazine. Email: aijaz.syed@ hotmail.com