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Ahmedis and their votes

As if widespread kidnappings and deteriorating law, order and sanitation were not enough, the Khadim-e-Aala-led Punjab government, on September 7, allowed yet again a large mass of ulema to gather in and terrorise the Ahmedi community in Rabwah — officially known as Chenab Nagar lest we recognise that those forced non-Muslims may also worship the same god. Surprisingly, and mercifully, the Punjab police managed to maintain law and order despite a rather unflattering reputation. Consider that, if you Google the terms ‘police’ and ‘clueless’ worldwide, the first 10 or so links are related to the Punjab police and its bloopers. Amazingly, the Ahmedis are not allowed to organise their own ijtimaas (gatherings) at any time during the year.

Another interesting fact about Rabwah is that, despite being heavily populated by the Ahmedi community, it has invariably been electing non-Ahmedi legislators for both provincial and federal legislatures since 1985 because the state has systematically disenfranchised them. This is because, from 1985 to 2001, elections were held on the basis of an unfair separate electorate system designed to marginalise minorities, which defeated the purpose of separate electorates in the first place. Ahmedis refused to be recognised separately from Muslims — a position based on their own opposition to the non-Muslim tag forced upon them. In 2002, General Musharraf restored the joint electorate system but the irony is, that while Shias, Sunnis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, etc, were put on one general list, a supplementary ‘non-Muslim’ list was prepared for the Ahmedis in particular. In other words, only the Ahmedis are, for purposes of voting, non-Muslims. This is absurd on so many levels, not the least of which is the fact that Jinnah, the founding father, had on several occasions refused to give in to the calls by right wing fanatics to expel the Ahmedis from the League. Even the classic consociationalist counterpoise that was the Two Nation Theory prescribed a test of nationality based on cultural and social distinctions between Hindus and Muslims such as names, cultural holidays, language, historical imagination and certainly not personal religious beliefs, which would have served to divide Muslims doctrinally. It was on this basis that the Muslim League laid claim to Qadian as a Muslim holy place both as a counterblast to Nankana Sahib and to argue that Gurdaspur should fall in Pakistan. Incidentally, Gurdaspur — that sob story we are all taught as kids — was Muslim majority only if you counted those Qadianis as Muslims.

However, from what I can gather from the Ahmedis now is that, while they consider the treatment meted out to them as unjust and immoral, they are willing to go about their lives if they are allowed to do so with dignity and the freedom to live their lives according to their own rights. The community as a whole is law abiding and constitutional in its approach. So, for example, when our courts decided that the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961 did not apply to them, they set up their own family arbitration councils. The state forbids them from calling their places of worship mosques and they oblige. So what then is the fear that our religious priestly class has in allowing them to vote like the rest of us? Their numbers, though significant, are not nearly enough to overturn the 1974 amendment.

The class component in this marginalisation cannot be ignored. As far as I know, Ahmedis, by and large, are part of the middle class. A great number of them are educated but socially conservative. They thus have the same concerns as any other member of the middle class in this country, i.e. the economy, corruption, opportunities and a better life. So who precisely would gain and who would lose if they were to vote in the elections? The mullahs can rest easy because Ahmedis just do not have the numbers to overturn the institutionalised discrimination against them. They do have the numbers however to upset the biradari and feudal politics in places like Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The idea of Ahmedis voting scares our entrenched status quo politicians who balk at any mention of the middle class, corruption, justice, etc.

Many Ahmedis I have spoken to admire Imran Khan as an honest and fair man. His stated agenda of a fair and just society based on justice appeals to them and many of them, if they were free to vote, would vote for him. Consider: according to the BBC, in the 2002 elections, the Ahmedis of voting age in Pakistan numbered between two and three million, when the total number of votes then was less than 30 million -you do the math. Ahmedis can afford to remain aloof from the electoral process but can Pakistan afford to keep them out?

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He is also a regular contributor to the Indian law website http://mylaw.net and blogs on http//globallegalforum.blogspot.com and http://pakteahouse.net. He can be reached at yasser.hamdani@gmail.com

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