Report documenting the ‘State of Religious Freedom in Pakistan’ by Jinnah Institute spells out the plight of minorities
Review by :Shah Nawaz Mohal
Man, since time immemorial, is a creature busy in categorizing his species in groups and gangs. Humankind had divided itself in clans, kin, creeds, castes and nations as far as legend, fable and written history goes.. The motive behind such division and the practical function it performs may vary, but one thing is certain, we derive our identity from groups we hail from, we seek company and comfort from people who share something with us, be it color, faith, ethnicity or place of origin.
This is something that we’ve been doing since the dawn of time. The mighty, it is said, preached and believed, is all powerful, just and right. Might in our democratic age has been equalled with the majority. And majority, unfortunately in our country has turned brutally savage on minority, the ‘others’. The quandary our minorities find themselves in is not only deplorable, but downright criminal on our collective part.
To pay penance for the sin of division, we have people, groups and organizations in our midst who strive to articulate the concerns of voices that have been silenced and banished away to oblivion. Jinnah Institute is one such attempt to offer penitence for wrongs done in the name of mighty ideals by seething ire.
Jinnah Institute, a non-profit public policy institute presided by Sherry Rehman, launched their annual report titled ‘State of Religious Freedom in Pakistan’ here today. The report was the result of over 100 interviews and discussions by focus groups. It documents the plight of both religious and sectarian minorities. The report makes use of qualitative and quantitative methodologies to map and revisit the major incidents of discriminations and violence that took place in the country. The status of Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians and Shias and the religious freedoms they have been denied, the treatment meted out to them on daily basis and the testimonials by the victims make the whole report interesting and engaging.
The screening of the documentary ‘Strangers in their own land’ in the beginning of the session provided the much-needed context for the panel talks that followed. The testimonials by people hailing from minorities painted the life lived day-in and day-out by members of Christian, Hazara, Hindus and Ahmedis. The loved ones lost, the dear ones shushed. The documentary also presented the take of Ahmer Bilal Soofi, Mohammad Hanif and Dr. Khalid Zaheer among others on the issues faced by minorities. The short documentary shed the necessary light on what hell our children of ‘lesser God’ go through.
The panel comprised of Sherry Rehman, Senator and President of Jinnah Institute; Jennifer Jag Jivan, acting director at Christian Study Centre and researcher; Ali Dayan Hasan, editor of the report and a notable human rights activist; Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, MNA of PML-N and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council and Tahira Abdullah, social worker and renowned human right activist.
Sherry Rehman beside being the speaker also regulated the panel discussion. From the outset she reminded the audience of Jinnah’s 11th August speech and how he envisioned a democratic, secular country. She also emphasised the need to empower the vulnerable and talk about things that happen around us before embarking on long tirades against other countries and the acts they do.
Ali Dayan, told the audience that it is the second of two reports, first one published back in 2011. He necessitated the fundamental importance of human rights and the nuances of law being used as instrument to perpetuate abuse.
Audience enjoyed thoroughly the mellow-voiced Jennifer Jag Jivan and the way she sketched the dilemma faced by Christians in particular and minorities in general. Jivan, without even remotely sounding donnish or pedantic, pinpointed the exclusion practiced by our society and our innate bent to divide the world in ‘us’ and ‘them’. The prejudice, bigotry, bias, discrimination that is rampant in our society was portrayed rather concisely by her.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani corrected the mistake in the report by telling that there are 8 million Hindus in Pakistan and not 1 million. One million Hindus, according to Mr.Kumar, live in Thar Parker alone. He mentioned his contributions to improve the overall situation. According to him, we need to work on curriculum, religious education and legislation for minorities.
The last panelist, Tahira Abdullah, was told to be as brief as possible due to paucity of time. Miss Tahira started by chalking out the dire situation of Thar Parker where 4 to 5 babies die every day. She laid stress on go beyond the reported cases and protecting people who are vulnerable because of their belief. There is no change to reinvent the wheel and time is ripe that we change the hearts and minds of people, she said. Political will and commitment is all that is required to purge our society of the menace that abounds our surroundings.
In her conclusion, Sherry Rehman summed up the views of the panelists by saying that we need not to moralize and our need to muster up the will to translate all that is being said comes from within.
After the session, I sat in the empty hall and ruminated about the past.
Long ago, we started the division of ‘us-muslims’, ‘you-hindus’. Back then we didn’t take stock that once the process of division is set afoot, there is no stop whatsoever to it.
From then on, it was ‘us-west’, ‘you-Bengali’. Eventually, East Pakistan turned into Bangladesh. Then, we classified Ahmadis as non-muslims. And then the Shias were termed ‘Kafir’ openly and at rallies, and now the Deobandis and Barelvis are at loggerheads.
We, most regrettably, have reduced ourselves to bullies. And the psychology of a bully is to pick on those who are unable to defend themselves. A bully uses his might, his size to overpower weak. And we’ve endangered those who we’ve once promised to protect.
They are not free to go to their temples, their churches are burnt, their lives are taken, they are scared, and they live in the shadows of damocles sword.
We have massacred the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan at the unholy altars of bigotry, hate and prejudice. And the end to this carnage is nowhere in sight.