Courtesy:- Hajrah Mumtaz
TRAGIC irony, cruel joke or absurd contrast, it’s hard to decide what to make of the distance between several of this country’s grim realities and the self-proclaimed good intentions of those who have taken it upon themselves to do something about them — because, after all, no one was thrust into politics and everyone who sits in a position of administrative power, be it in parliament or at a lower tier, is there because they volunteered for the job.
Consider a couple of gems that have appeared in the news in the recent past. On Nov 16, in its ongoing effort to improve the lot of the people of minority religions whose fate it is to struggle on in this country’s unedifying terrain, the PPP proposed that the word ‘minority’ should be replaced with ‘better Pakistani’ in all official correspondence. Yes, really.
At a seminar organised by the party’s human rights wing in Lahore, PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said that “the word ‘minority’ should be replaced with ‘better Pakistani’ as whenever it is attached with anyone, it belittles the personality regardless of stature”. He added that the PPP intended to pass a resolution in this regard, and that it is likely to move a resolution carrying this demand in the National Assembly, too.
Shying away from minority issues won’t make them vanish.
I’m sure that will go a long way to assuage the anguish of the families of Shama and Shahzad, whose screams have not yet died away in our consciousness.
There’s no issue with the logic underpinning Mr Ahsan’s observation: putting a person in a category other than the majority mainstream, based in fact though it may be, is the beginning of the process of converting them into a ‘them’ as opposed to ‘us’, and from there a slide into hostility is all too easy. But if only the problems with the Pakistani state and people’s treatment of minorities, whether religious or ethnic, were so easily solved, prejudiced mindsets so easily changed. Let’s send around a petition to get ‘better Pakistani’ Asiya Bibi out of jail, and to stop Hindu girls from being forced to marry persons beneath their stature, since the former are ‘better Pakistanis’.
On the other side of the spectrum of the inexplicable, on Nov 9 the Senate Standing Committee on the Commerce and Textile Industry came up with a new idea to attract foreign investment: it advised the government to cast about for the attention of wealthy businessmen around the world who migrated — or whose families migrated — from Pakistan soon after Partition. According to a report prepared by a sub-committee, back in 1947 some five million people, Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and Christian, left what now constitutes this country and migrated to other parts of the world.
“Pakistan’s neighbouring countries, especially India, are encouraging these emigrants to invest in India, instead of their ancestral lands in Pakistani Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan,” says the report, adding that such people in Canada, America, Europe, the Far East and the Middle East can be encouraged to invest in their “historical homeland”.
According to the account published in this newspaper: “The committee has called upon the government to highlight the cultural heritage of non-Muslims in the country so that all these non-Muslims who migrated from Pakistan ‘are able to develop a strong cultural, economical, social and religious bond with their homeland’.”
Reportedly, 431 such prospective investors have already been identified by the Board of Investment; one can only wish the government godspeed in its efforts to create strong links with people who left the country nearly seven decades ago, or their descendants. I can’t speak for them, obviously, but it seems to me that anyone watching the systematic and systemic abuse of the country’s minorities from afar would be aghast and, if their roots lay in this piece of land, be grateful that they are not here to potentially face the brunt of it.
Like so many other sectors, in this area too Pakistan’s efforts towards improvement are piecemeal, tend to address symptoms rather than the causes, and, frankly, ostrich-like — as if refusing to look the issue in the face will somehow manage to render it without existence.
The solution to minorities’ predicament here is on paper quite simple. A start could be made by making changes to legislation open to misuse such as the blasphemy laws. At the same time, improving access to education, poverty alleviation and investment in human resource would go a long way towards raising the profile and power of communities that are marginalised as much as a result of these factors as of being from a minority religion. Meanwhile, identifying and successfully prosecuting those that target people on the basis of religion would send out strong signals about the state’s focus on inclusiveness.
Yet, somehow, all this seems a far cry in the context of this country. Better, then, to just leave it at ‘better Pakistanis’.