The case of Rinkle Kumari, a Pakistani-Hindu woman, opened our eyes to the plight of the Hindu community in Pakistan.
It is not as if we were not aware of forced conversions before but Rinkle’s case highlighted how complicit the state is in oppressing religious minorities in our country. Recently, the police got Quranic verses removed from the walls of an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore so that it does not ‘look’ like a mosque because the Ahmadis were declared ‘non-Muslims’ by the state of Pakistan in 1974 and when General Ziaul Haq came to power, he introduced the draconian Ordinance XX so that they were not allowed to freely practice their faith.
On May 28, 2010, two Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore during Friday prayers. More than 80 people died and over a hundred were injured during those deadly attacks. The Ahmadiyya community lives in constant fear due to the complicity of the state. They are not the only ones. Christians in Pakistan are discriminated against and have faced persecution at the hands of the mullahs and their gangs. Christian villages have been burnt, their churches vandalised and their people put behind bars or killed due to the blasphemy laws. Shia Muslims are being threatened and systematically killed all over the country, particularly in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Parachinar. Terrorists blew up several Sufi shrines across the country in the past few years. They are afraid of Sufism because the Sufis’ message has always been that of peaceful coexistence and tolerance.
This week, terrorists bombed the tomb of Ajmal Khattak, famous Pashto poet and Pashtun nationalist. He might not have been a Sufi but he propagated secularism, which is something the fanatics terribly fear.
India’s Foreign Minister S M Krishna was right in pointing out that it is “the responsibility of the Pakistani government to discharge its constitutional obligations towards its citizens, including those from the minority community”. Unfortunately, successive governments have done little to ensure the rights of the religious minorities. From the military to the civilians, from the police to the ‘independent’ judiciary, from the mullahs to the ‘silent majority’, all are guilty.
When the most powerful institution of the state — the military — backs religious fanatics to fight proxy wars, the jihadists are bound to get out of control. When the security forces turn a blind eye to the crimes of banned terrorist organisations, the terrorists are bound to get more powerful. When it is far easier for the judiciary to convict an elected prime minister than to convict murderers, rapists, terrorists due to lack of evidence, lawlessness is bound to increase. When the sitting Governor of the country’s largest province is murdered in broad daylight by his bodyguard for supporting a Christian woman accused of alleged blasphemy and the government’s reaction is to end the debate on the blasphemy laws, intolerance is bound to permeate society. When the federal minister for minorities is also killed for supporting minority rights and his killers are never caught, the religious minorities are bound to feel isolated.
It is not easy to live in a country where you are afraid to voice your opinion in public lest some zealot misinterprets it and fatwas (religious decrees) are issued against you. As Dr Mohammad Taqi notes in his recent Daily Times column, it is most unfortunate that the military dictator Ayub Khan had connived with the clergy to get the first political fatwa of Pakistan’s history against Ms Fatima Jinnah — the sister of the nation’s founder. It is this compact between the military-dominated state and the clergy that continues to date. The connivance with the clergy — whether by politicians or generals — must end.
If we do not want to live in constant fear, all Pakistanis must rise up against the bullying tactics of the fanatics and against state-sanctioned oppression. There is a thin line between indifference and complicity. If we are indifferent to the plight of the minorities, we may as well be complicit in their persecution.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at email@example.com