Licence to kill?

August 14, 2013


ANNIVERSARIES are a time for reflection. And if they are also marked with celebration, the idea is to reaffirm the spirit of the event that is being commemorated. That is what Pakistan’s independence day anniversary means to most of us.

There would be barely two million people left in Pakistan who would have any memory of the partition of India. Those who were old enough in 1947 to comprehend what was happening would be even fewer. Soon those who were witness to this momentous event will be gone and partition will live only in history books. Given our distorted historiography our progeny may never learn the truth.

I was too young to understand the wider implications of the political events of 1947. But I could feel the excitement of living in a new country in a state of fear generated by the bloodletting. There was, however, no sense of the ‘other’ who had to be hated and destroyed. The massacre that accompanied the events of 1947 had more of a political dimension than a religious one.

The fact is that at the time of its creation, Pakistan had an ethos that was not what it is now. Orthodoxy did not bleaken our horizons as there was more harmony among people of diverse backgrounds. Stories are legion of Hindu families helping a Muslim or of Muslims coming to the rescue of a Hindu in trouble.

Going through Jinnah’s speeches nowhere does one find any reference to the homeland for the Muslims being a theocratic state that excludes non-Muslims. Yes, he did speak of the Muslims being a nation apart from the Hindus. But the basis of the state being created for the Muslims was deemed to be economic, cultural and social. That is why the non-Muslims in Jinnah’s Pakistan were treated as equals with full freedom to practise their faith.

Jinnah, it seems, did not envisage Pakistan as a state exclusively for Muslims — especially those of a particular sect. Had he done so he would have been trapped in a futile debate on semantics.

Admittedly, he spoke of following Islamic principles, though in a broad sense. Jinnah, who spoke of justice and fairness and had a very secular lifestyle, would have found it unbelievable that anyone could arrogate to himself the right to sit in judgment on the religious beliefs of another person irrespective of his sect or faith.

Against this backdrop, when I read Qasim Rashid’s book on the Ahmadi community, An Untold Story of Persecution and Perseverance, I felt a deep sense of anguish. I also felt a sense of profound loss.

Pakistanis have lost the respect and tolerance we were taught as children. For me, it is beyond belief that anyone should want to kill a person just because his beliefs are not what I believe in. Not so today when the state itself is playing a big role in promoting bigotry and religious prejudice.

The Ahmadis are one of the worst sufferers as horrors are being visited on them.

Qasim Rashid, a 31-year old Pakistani-American who migrated to the US when he was five, returned home to explore his roots and learn more about the status of his community, the Ahmadis, in the country of his birth. This remarkable book is the fruit of a labour of love that took him to Mong, Rabwah, Qadian, and other places. He had long conversations with his uncle Bashir and his cousin Danyal and many others who recounted their experiences — not by any chance happy ones.

In the village called Mong, Ahmadis in their place of worship were butchered heartlessly by three gunmen in October 2005 in what the author calls “a perfectly executed massacre”. Rashid heard the painful tales of woe of mothers, sons and others who lost their loved ones. The prayer leader, who escaped miraculously, summed it up: “In the end they killed eight of my brothers, and shot 20 more.”

That was shocking enough for Qasim Rashid as was the sight of blood-stained and bullet-marked walls and floors. He was caught off guard when Yousef, one of the survivors, said, “The culprits were never caught. The police made no effort to find them.”

Rashid discovers a story of persecution, discrimination, torture and torment of the Ahmadis in Pakistan. They have been victims of violence and oppression. The situation has been compounded by unjust laws that have actually disempowered them by denying them their political rights which prevents them from fighting back. Designated non-Muslim, they have been declared a minority and one knows what rights the minorities in Pakistan enjoy.

This is not the martyr’s syndrome. Rashid learns that there are other communities whose fate is no better. The treatment meted out to the Hindus and to the Shia community — the Hazaras have been worst hit — in present-day Pakistan is a blatant violation of the human rights conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory.

The sufferings of the Ahmadis have sensitised people like Rashid to the sufferings of others whose faith and thinking are not identical to those of what many believe are establishment-supported extremists.

The author seeks to raise his voice in a bid to change the world. He wants to join hands with the ‘wrong’ kind of Christians and Hindus and Buddhists — that is those who are inclusive — to bring peace to the world. That is a brave effort and may you succeed Qasim.