National Minorities’ Day has been observed in Pakistan on August 11since 2009. This is because of efforts by the now deceased Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who advocated for reforms of the Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Two years later, in 2011, he was martyred as he left his Islamabad home. Two assassins sprayed the federal minister’s car with gunfire, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a “Christian infidel”. Responsibility for his murder was claimed by a known terrorist group.
Three months earlier, the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer had also been gunned down by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri, because the gubernatorial incumbent was a staunch critic of the blasphemy laws and wanted them reviewed.
Shahbaz Bhatti had strived hard for this national day, since he was a firm believer in the segment of the Quaid’s historic address to the members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, which had laid down the foundation of a modern, tolerant and progressive Pakistan decreeing equality of rights for all citizens of the state irrespective of creed, caste, and gender. On that historic day, Jinnah proclaimed: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of 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.” Indeed, this was the clarion’s call to which Shahbaz Bhatti heeded and took up the cudgels to convince the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) hierarchy to announce August 11, as the day of minorities to commemorate the Quaid’s address on that auspicious day in 1947.
Salman Taseer was a champion of the oppressed and had voiced serious concern over the conviction of a young Christian girl Asia Bibi for allegedly violating the Blasphemy Law. Salman Taseer believed that in their current state the blasphemy laws are too open ended and prone to abuse, hence they necessitate revision. Most of the people punished under the blasphemy law were Christians and hindsight indicated that they were not guilty. Rather, they had been targeted by infuriated crowds, whose frenzy was whipped up by people with vested interests.
This was in direct contravention to the Quaid’s prescient edict. Pakistan’s minorities are represented on Pakistan’s ensign by the white portion while the green signifies the Muslim population.
In direct infringement of Islamic conventions as well as the guidance provided by the founder of ournation, we have not given the minorities the respect and honour they deserve
The minorities have given their very best to Pakistan, whether in the armed forces, civil service or judiciary. They have also performed well in the fields of education, medicine, media, sports and fine arts. The 1965 and 1971 Pakistan-India Wars saw the officers and other ranks belonging to the minorities, fighting side by side with their Muslim compatriots. The tales of valour emblazoned by the minorities have become an example for the nation to follow. They never demurred or hesitated from making the supreme sacrifice of their lives. Similarly, minority Pakistanis who joined the judiciary made a name for themselves through their upright and aboveboard conduct. Some of them rose to the highest pedestals of the honourable profession. Name any vocation, education, sports, fine arts, medicine, nursing, media professionals; the minorities have carved their names with golden letters through their meritorious contribution.
We the Muslims of Pakistan, on the other hand, in direct infringement of Islamic conventions as well as the guidance provided by the founder of the nation, have not given the minorities the respect and honour they deserve. Members of the minority community have been lynched because the land mafia wanted their property, there have been forced conversions to Islam, other religion’s places of worship have been desecrated, even torched or made targets of terror attacks. In short, the state has failed to provide them the security they were promised by our founding father.
This year, without a doubt, like the previous nine years, National Minorities’ Day will be observed with statements by the government, a seminar or two and perhaps rallies expressing solidarity with the minorities. By the day after though, everything will be buried in the crescendo of intolerance that has permeated Pakistani society. Both Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer were martyred by the extremists, who wanted to silence their voices of reason. The tragically horrifying irony is that Salman Taseer’s assassin, MumtazQadri is hailed as a hero for his despicable act of murder. A politico-religious party has been named to carry on his task of intolerance. Mercifully they won no seats in the parliament in 2018 but their vociferous and violent appeals are gaining ground. Such are the dual standards we maintain.
This National Minorities’ Day, we must endeavour to ensure that the Quaid’s aforementioned speech should be made a substantive part of the Constitution and serves as a guide to government policies. The Quaid’s legacy of inclusion can help us out of our current crisis.
The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China
Published in Daily Times, August 11th 2018.