SOUTH Asia has had few opportunities to celebrate its diversity. Instead, what we have heard are voices of concern about the treatment of minorities in the region. At Tuesday’s Regional Conference on the Rights of Religious Minorities in South Asia, held in Islamabad, speakers deplored the treatment meted out to marginalised religious communities in South Asia. A speaker from India said the way Hindus treated Muslims in his country was linked to the Pakistani penchant for going after the minority Hindu community. He was happy to note that people belonging to all religions believed in Mahatma Gandhi. But unfortunately, little appears to have been said about how putting faith in the non-violent Mahatma is useful for the targeted. A Pakistani Hindu was of the view that Pakistan was as much his country as anybody else’s. Yet the reality could be gauged from his account of cases of unending persecution of Pakistan’s Hindus. In much the same vein, a Pakistani Christian talked of his community’s contribution to the country’s progress — but eventually it is the sad comparison the present offers with the past that puts the national journey in doubt. The Mahatmas, the rights activists and the natural instinct for tolerance notwithstanding, the picture is dismal overall.
One consensus coming out of the meeting was that all religions abhor violence. The special reference to Islam was unavoidable given how its name has been used for a violent cleansing exercise from Tirah to Timbuktu. That point inevitably leads to reflections about the protective and trendsetting roles of the state which, today, is quite inseparable from religion. “No non-Muslim ambassador or federal secretary ... Hindus barred from the atomic energy commission…” — the state has, in fact, failed its minorities, and failed to set an example of tolerance for all its people.