By Vijay Kumar
Yesterday, on Saturday, July 30th 2016, I got an opportunity to become part of a thought-provoking conference in Hyderabad, the second largest city in Sindh. The conference was titled as Interfaith Youth Dialogue and Festival, arranged by a young social activist and past Pak-US exchange alumni, Dr. Rajesh Kumar. The session was led by some of the prominent personalities in the Sindh covering intellectuals, mystic poets, human right activists and academia.
The conference put lights on many important issues of religious intolerance and religious supremacy prevailing in the Sindh and Pakistan, in general.
During the conference, by listening to the panelists and with my own thought pattern, I summarized some of my thoughts on the issues and what I think we can do to curb them.
- Here is a conflict now. If you pick a currency coin or any bill in Pakistan, it says the name of our country as “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. This causes an inherent flaw in our so called democratic form of the government. The constitution of Pakistan which regards Islam as an official religion of the state portrays an inherent religious supremacy of one religion over all affairs of the state and other religions. The truth is that, a state has no religion. If I say it more clearly then I would say, the state is not run by any belief system. It must be neutral from any particular belief system. The state can’t even be an atheist because that would still be treated as a belief system in where actually you don’t believe, actually. So a true democratic state would keep religion and the state affairs as two separate things. The problem in Pakistan and the reason why we are lacking behind in our collective social and moral uplift is that we have often seen state affairs with the lens of religious affairs. How can a country where people from other faiths are living and contributing their part since centuries can make sure that they own the state and buy into the decisions it imposes on them?
- In Pakistan, a Hindu, a Christian, a Buddhist or any other faith in minority can’t run for the high level public offices like Presidency, Prime Ministership or Chief of Army Staff. How can we regard Pakistan as a democratic state where one faith is regarded as only doctrine by which everything will be measured? The same constitution also proclaims to provide equal rights to the every citizen of Pakistan. This shows the double standards or ignorance of the public policy makers. Some of the people take pride while quoting that Pakistan is the only country in the world which was created on the name of Islam. Are you trying to say, that all other religious groups are like unattended sheep in a jungle. Let it be clear that I am not against any religion of the world. I respect and in fact I follow every religion. Because, I see every religion as a teaching guide to live a prosperous and successful life. What I don’t like is narrow-mindedness of people in power who fail to understand that other faiths who are in minorities also regard themselves as Pakistanis. I am a Pakistani. FULL STOP. That should suffice for the state to get me qualified for the basic rights.
- Every successful society has always been an interdependent society where people from different faiths are interdependent on each others’ skills and talents. I am dependent on a superstore to buy my groceries and the store is dependent on me to earn its business. So in the same way, every citizen of a society carries different identities with him/her self. Some are businessmen, doctors or engineers and some are artists or musicians. The idea is to channelize these various identities and talents each participant of society has to offer to do collective good for the society and not to materialize the differences of individual religions or backgrounds and create an environment of a jungle where might is always right and everybody else is just there to exist on its own.
- The term “minority” itself gives a false impression. Where there is a minority, there also has to exist a majority. Like I said earlier, in a true democratic form of government, there is not such a term of minority or majority as everybody has equal rights and equally accountable before rule of law. In a state’s dictionary, these both terms should be deleted permanently as it will always create a division of rights and responsibilities.
- The term “Secularism” is often misinterpreted in Pakistan as something which creates a perception of a religion-less society where people don’t follow their faiths. It is a very wrong interpretation. Secularism is the concept of the same principle I have been saying in upper part of this write-up which is simply to keep the government and its institutions separate from any religion and religious institutions. In my view, religion is a very personal dogma. It should always be between me and my Creator. Let it not become a public affair and let it always be a private thing.
- So where are we heading now? It has been almost 70 years since we got free from British colonialism. 70 years was so enough and too much time for us to make Pakistan a prosperous and a true democratic society. But due to many political and religious conflicts we have been put into by various political leaders in the past, this is very unfortunate that we are still talking about the issues of education, health, poverty, infrastructure and religious intolerance. There are many examples of countries in front of us who took the different path and turned around their economies and social fabric of their societies in a few decades.
- In summary, what I learned from my observations in yesterday’s conference and especially after spending a wonderful time in the United States and seeing the level of religious intolerance there, I can say that as a society we have to fight with our own moral corruption first before fighting with the corruption in the government institutions. Our collective level of morality has become so low that we can’t tolerate people from other faiths and still we are fine with the economic corruption. It is a need of the hour that we start becoming responsible for our own blunders. I can tell you that this is much harder to fight with than any other type of corruption. It is like, we who have to change before changing our politics. The crime and corruption is inside us. Don’t find them inside political dorms. It is the time we revive the beautiful history of Sindh which was famous for its high caliber of hospitality and religious tolerance. Let’s imagine and work towards for a Pakistan where we all live together with peace and harmony, where people don’t take religion as a point of fight but a point to think, understand and respect. Where our children are not educated to fight with other religions or to make them feel like all other religions are wrong and have no right to live. Instead, we should teach them to respect and understand every religion and to capitalize on the points which are similar to their own religion while still respecting the differences.
Vijay has a professional background in accounting and project management. He loves to write on technology, start-ups and politics and perform music. Currently, he is working as an executive consultant at a renowned accounting firm in Karachi. He has also been a cultural ambassador in the U.S.