Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Do We Exaggerate The Plight Of The Religious Minorities And Women In Pakistan[Part 5]

Posted on March 4, 2013 in Society

By Karmanye Thadani:

Speaking of Pakistan, I am, by no means, a fan of that country and feel very strongly against those who engage in or support terrorism in that country or those who try to cover up their wrongdoings by inventing idiotic conspiracy theories; though the very fact that some people there seek solace in conspiracy theories shows that those elements do not support terrorism (I created this Facebook group called ‘We are Against the Pakistani Army, Intelligence, Terrorists & Propagandists’  and have written a Facebook note titled ‘The Hypocrisy in Pakistani Propaganda’ ). Even more recently, in the light of contemporary developments, I wrote a piece  on how we should surely take the Pakistani state to the International Court of Justice if some of their army men actually beheaded one of our soldiers.

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However, with respect to anti-Muslim prejudices in India, Pakistani Hindus too deserve attention, since by some bizarre logic, the saffron elements argue that Indian Muslims deserve the same treatment as them. In fact, exaggerating the problems of religious minorities on the other side of the border is a part of the majority right wing propaganda in both the countries, and in Pakistan, liberals have been outspoken against this exaggeration of the problems of Indian Muslims and liberal Indian Hindus too need to root out false propaganda against Pakistan for it would be difficult for Indian Muslims to do so, though the very premise of judging fellow citizens of another faith by the actions of their co-religionists in other countries does not make much sense.

I may point out yet again as I did in the second article in this series (……) that though I certainly consider the partition of India to be a great tragedy, Jinnah had arguably envisaged Pakistan as a Muslim-majority secular state and he had indeed promised the religious minorities no discrimination whatsoever. While there indeed has been violence against the Pakistani Hindus (including abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of girls) in rural (not urban) areas by Muslim extremists except in the Thaparkar district of Sindh where they are in majority, Hindus do go to schools, colleges and offices alongside Muslims in Pakistan, making Muslim friends, and I know of a school-going Pakistani Hindu boy in Karachi who tops in academics and is a prefect, and Hindus also pray alongside Muslims in Sufi shrines in that country (William Dalrymple has mentioned this composite Sufi culture in the province of Sindh in Pakistan in his highly acclaimed book Nine Lives, in which he mentions how a Sufi shrine at Sehwan is still being managed by a Hindu).

Many Pakistani Hindus based in urban areas are prosperous businessmen, and people from that community have been civil servants (including diplomats, and there are reservations for Hindus in the Govt. jobs), actors, sportspersons (two have made it in the cricket team, namely Anil Dilpat and more recently, Danish Kaneria), politicians (there are seats reserved for them in the legislatures) including cabinet ministers and even chief justice (Justice Rana Bhagwandas), and a very prominent fashion designer in Pakistan happens to be a Karachi-based Hindu, Deepak Perwani. Diwali was openly celebrated in the Muslim League office in Islamabad with Muslim politicians dressed up as characters from the Ramayan, which would certainly be abhorrent to fanatic Muslims and the deputy attorney general of Pakistan openly visits places of worship of diverse faiths.

It is also noteworthy that Hindu temples have been renovated by the government, often with large amounts being pumped in for the purpose. While some may say that this is just for show, that’s exactly what many Islamists would say about similar things happening in India, be it the appointment of a Muslim president, who they point out is just a rubberstamp. In fact, there are many functioning Hindu temples, including grand ISKCON temples, in that country.

Other religious minorities have produced prominent public figures in that country as well without their non-Muslim names coming in their way — they have had a Christian chief justice, Justice Cornelius, and he remains one of their most respected judges till date, and the tiny Zoroastrian community in Pakistan, like its Indian counterpart, has produced many remarkable personalities, including prominent judges (e.g. Justice Dorab Patel who has also served as chief justice as also Justice Rustam S. Sidhwa who served in the Supreme Court of Pakistan as also the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), businessmen (e.g. the Avari group in Pakistan is well-known), sportspersons (e.g. Goshpi Avari, a woman who won Pakistan a gold medal in sailing in the Asian Games), journalists (e.g. Ardershir Cowasjee, who is affectionately referred to as the old guardian of the city of Karachi), academicians (e.g. Godrej Sidhwa) and diplomats (e.g. Jamsheed Marker, who has been Pakistan’s top envoy to the United States and more than a dozen other countries, more countries than any diplomat in the world, and has earned the distinction of being the world’s longest serving ambassador).

Also, though it is undoubtedly true that many Pakistani Hindus have sought asylum in India in recent years, the liberals in the Pakistani media have explored the reason for the same lying in Muslim extremism and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has made great efforts to document the problems of the religious minorities, and some Indian Muslims too did migrate to Pakistan when the 1993 Mumbai riots were on. In fact, the Sindhi American Political Action Committee (SAPAC), a secular group of Pakistani Sindhi diaspora, mostly Muslims, actually took up the cause of the Pakistani Hindus to pressurize the US senators to take up the matter with the Pakistani authorities and this was before the recent mass migration to India in August 2012, when even the VHP has practically done little about the same, in spite of that group claiming to represent the world’s Hindus, and all that the VHP has done in this particular regard is presenting exaggerated images of the plight of Pakistani Hindus to demonize all Muslims.

The martyrdom of Salman Taseer, a Pakistani Muslim politician, for his raising his voice against the blasphemy law that is unfortunately being heavily misused, especially against the Christian community (and in some cases, Muslims too!), hit newspaper headlines even in India, and reminded me of Gandhiji’s martyrdom for the cause of protecting Indian Muslims, though of course, Taseer cannot be equated with the mahatma. In fact, it may also be noted that even before the introduction of the blasphemy law, the Pakistan Penal Code has a provision prohibiting outraging the religious sentiments of any community, and recently, some Pakistani Muslims have been detained for outraging Hindu sentiments owing to their vandalizing a Hindu temple. To digress a bit, the position in Egyptian law is somewhat similar and a Muslim there has been arrested recently for outraging the religious sentiments of Christians.

Also, those who give statistics of the Pakistani Hindus constituting 10% of the population of that country in 1947 and 2% now simply overlook the mass migration that took place at the time of the partition (I don’t deny the declining trend, which is rather unfortunate, but there’s more to the starkness in the figures). Pakistan has a specific ministry to look after minority affairs and 11th August is observed as Minority Day, and in the light of the same, this piece by a liberal Pakistani Muslim lady criticizing religious extremists in a national daily of that country deserves attention; it’s indeed a must-read!

Now, coming to women. Pakistan has had a woman as prime minister (Benazir Bhutto) and its current foreign minister is a woman (Hina Rabbani Khar) and already has reservations for women in its legislatures, including the parliament and there is talk there of making it as high as 50%, while India still hasn’t achieved the much talked about 33%, though I personally believe that gender-based reservations in legislatures really don’t serve any purpose whatsoever, and I don’t say this because I am sexist or because I don’t accord any importance to gender equality (far from it!), but that would make for a different discussion altogether and has been articulated in this piece of mine. In fact, Pakistan has not only produced several Muslim women who have excelled at sports (Pakistan has a women’s football team, just like many other Muslim-majority countries like Iran and Jordan, and a women’s cricket team too; Maria Toor, a Muslim woman from Pakistan, is ranked among the top 50 globally in women’s squash) but also, the first Pakistani to go to space happens to be a Muslim woman, Namira Salim, and she has also undertaken expeditions to the North Pole and South Pole, and skydived touching Mt. Everest!

The next article will focus on liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectuals.

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