Religious intolerance

Published October 16, 2014
File photo
File photo

IT doesn’t necessarily take devastating, large-scale attacks to underscore how extremism is tightening its grip over the country.

While catastrophic terrorist strikes can unite a nation, such as after last year’s attack on Peshawar’s All Saints Church or the bombings against the Hazara in Quetta, it is also true that the steady drip, drip of targeted killings and vigilante ‘justice’ can be more dangerous.

That is because over time they inure people to the discord and violence insidiously seeping into the warp and weft of society. In this context, the statement issued by the HRCP this week was much needed.

Taking into account the many ways in which citizens’ rights are violated here, it has shone a comprehensive light on the big picture, one that is exceedingly disturbing. For, while the attention of the nation, and its media, has been distracted by the sound and fury of the sit-ins that had been taking place and the series of mass rallies being staged in the country, the abuse of human rights has not only thrived, it has in fact gained in intensity.

The scourge of religious extremism, for one, has begun to manifest itself across a wider canvas, claiming ever more vulnerable victims. Among them is the small community of Zikris in southern Balochistan and the even tinier one of Sikhs in Peshawar.

The beleaguered Shia Hazaras try to barricade themselves within self-contained ghettoes in Quetta for their safety (and even that tactic doesn’t always work as the recent suicide attack against them illustrated).

Pity the Ahmadis, for their murder does not even elicit a murmur of condemnation from officialdom.

Meanwhile, sectarian killings in Karachi continue with barely a pause, claiming lives of ordinary people who have no choice but to go out into the streets for their daily bread.

At the same time, raising a voice for victims of intolerance and bigotry has become increasingly challenging in a hostile environment. Blasphemy accused often cannot find lawyers to defend them, and the media, particularly in Balochistan, is menaced by threats from various quarters, including religious extremists.

Despite the state’s realisation, at least in part, of the folly of using religious proxies to further political ends, it appears unwilling, or unable, to take the bull by the horns. It is a mark of shame that those who fuel the flames of intolerance and carry out their blood-soaked agenda do so largely with impunity in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2014

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