PAKISTAN: National Minorities Day – A perplexed nation

National Minorities Day is annually commemorated on August 11, in remembrance of the 1947 landmark speech of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisaging that citizens of all faiths will be treated equally in the new nation:

“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.”

Ironically, the day was only officially recognised beginning 2009, due to the efforts of Pakistan’s former minister of Minority Affairs, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, who was murdered on 2 March 2011 by the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Islamabad.

Despite Pakistan being envisaged as a secular state with interfaith harmony, the country’s pluralistic ideology was soon hijacked by orthodox clergy that had earlier objected to the establishment of Pakistan, and who propagated hate against all non-Muslim infidels.

Soon after the demise of Mr. Jinnah, the first legislative assembly that was tasked with formulating the constitution of Pakistan was mired in criticism for being secular and having Hindus and Ahmadis as its members. The orthodox clergy demanded the assembly’s dissolution, arguing that the “lamppost legislators” were incapable of drawing up an Islamic constitution, and that the assembly did not possess any of the characteristics of a democratic parliament. They demanded the establishment of a more representative institution.

The Objective Resolution was introduced by the orthodox clergy with the connivance and consent of civil service officers. The “objective resolution” was proved to be a Pandora’s box of militancy, religious intolerance and extremism. Subsequent to the passage of the Objectives Resolution, all of Pakistan’s constitutions contained religious provisions and the name of the country was changed from the Republic of Pakistan to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The objective resolution created an incessant tug of war between the left wing liberals and conservatives, creating a legal quagmire where the constitutional provisions and legislations are riddled with contradictions. For example, Article 25 says that all citizens are equal before law, while Article 2 says that Islam shall be the state religion. A perusal of the two provisions raises the question that if Islam is established as the state religion excluding other religions, how can a non-Muslim be considered a citizen in the eyes of the law? What kind of democratic state allows religious bigotry of this magnitude, where a non-Muslim cannot become the head of the state? Is this not a clear violation of equality before law?

The Objective resolution has been a bane for the country, which has been suffering from religious, sectarian and ethnic conflict since its inception. Seventy years after its creation, Pakistan remains a rudderless nation, clueless about the purpose of its existence. Rife with contractions and bigotry, the Constitution has failed to unite the nation.

The proponents of the resolution censored Mr. Jinnah’s speech at the first constitution assembly, to permute politics of hate. Criticizing the objective resolution, Sir Chandra Chattopadhyaya, the leader of the opposition, on 12 March 1949 had stated that “The minorities must be grateful for all the benevolence they get and must never complain for the malevolence that may also be dealt out to them. That is the solution of the minority problem as per the state.”

The impunity afforded those who enforce radical Islamic ideologies only serves to encourage the spread of prejudice and violence consuming Pakistan today. The muzzling of free speech has perpetuated the bias against the minority, who are unable to voice their concerns. The government of Pakistan is cracking down on all dissenting factions of the society- the intellectuals, lawyers, activists -who might question the atrocities of the state. The mass murder of lawyers in Quetta is a testimony of the fact that the state has turned against its own citizens. The country’s youth are fed a retrogressive State narrative, while critical thinking is discouraged and limited; as a result, Pakistani youth are easily radicalized and prone to violence against dissenters.

Pakistan is perhaps the only nation in the world where freedom of speech was not even guaranteed to its founder. The curb on free speech that began with the censure of Mr. Jinnah’s speech has reached a point where the common man is no longer allowed to speak his mind. Those who dare to question the government’s injustice are prosecuted and penalized. The establishment and law enforcement agencies intervene in intellectual discourse at their whim; a discussion on the issue of Baluchistan was banned at a university in Lahore by the intelligence agency as it was a matter of national security. The constitution and legislation criminalizes free speech under the guise of blasphemy and national interest. The recent promulgation of the Cyber Crime Bill is also touted by rights activists as barbaric and retrogressive.

The Asian Human Rights Commission reiterates that Minorities Day is an opportunity to reaffirm solidarity with all communities, for the betterment of humanity and for a prosperous Pakistan. The government should ensure the security of the country’s religious minorities from judicial injustice and attacks by militants. The state must wake up to the fact that a fractured society cannot prosper. A state that is unjust and biased against its marginalized and vulnerable shall forever remain divided.