Ghettoed by degrees

24 Feb 2019


The writer is a poet and analyst.
The writer is a poet and analyst.

“TILL they come for you” is the refrain one comes across on an almost daily basis, especially in societies grappling with identity politics and its repercussions. It is usually thrown around to warn people and to yank them out of a misplaced sense of security that whatever calamities are befalling others around them will sooner rather than later come a calling at their doorstep.

One such misplaced assumption is — or at least was — that Sindh being the land of the Sufis was so steeped in the mystic teachings of love and brotherhood that any type of bigotry, militancy and extremism would not take root here. Nothing is more dangerous than a false sense of immunity because it forestalls the need to take preventive measures against all sorts of risks.

When Karachi was in the throes of political, sectarian and other forms of violence, one would frequently hear people in other parts of the country wondering out loud: ‘Why doesn’t the Sindh government cut these miscreants down to size?’ Some even went to the extent of saying: ‘Let’s export an ordinary SHO from Punjab and he will fix these criminals in a week.’

Unfortunately, while even ‘imported’ inspectors general of police — what to talk of SHOs — could not rein in the violence in Karachi, the menace afflicted the rest of the country. What goes around, also spreads around.

Why should a scholar’s degree mention her religion?

Back to the land of the Sufis. Nobody thought that even the Qalandar’s mausoleum would not be spared by the terrorists. But why did we think so? When every mosque, imambargah, church, mandir, school, seminary and hospital is fair game for the merchants of death, why would they spare a shrine? When human life loses value, nothing else could be sacrosanct. If society as a whole does not guard against the spread of hatred, bigotry, extremism and forces of exclusion, they do not just knock on every door; they knock them down and take over every public and private space.

In such dire times when you think there is no atrocity left that can still shock you, unfortunately, there always is one more up some individual or institution’s sleeve. Who would have thought that an agriculture university situated in the leafy, quiet and serene environs of Tando Jam, just outside Hyderabad, Sindh, is doling out degrees with the religion of the holder mentioned on the uppermost section of the document?

Can someone explain what could be the logic behind such obvious chauvinism? This is a country where 98 per cent of the population adheres to one religion. Why then should there be any reason to wear our faith on our sleeve? And this too in a province where most of the Pakistanis practising the Hindu faith reside. As if attacking their places of worship and kidnapping and forcibly converting their girls were not enough, we also want to stamp their religion on their academic degrees? Unlike our Christian brothers and sisters who sometimes take up Muslim names — not that it saves them from any form of discrimination — Pakistanis of Hindu faith usually don’t even do that and their names are sure giveaways for any type of bias that the society wants to mete out to them. It becomes all the more pertinent to ask, why then this need to put a scholar’s religion on her degree? Why?

Pakistan enjoys a unique feature. It is perhaps the first country in human history to have been created on the basis of a religious identity. The other such example is Israel. Surrounded by even more real, imagined or provoked-into-enmity foes than Pakistan, does the ‘Zionist entity’ go to the extent of putting religion on the degrees its academic institutions give out? At least an internet-based search did not throw up anything to suggest that. What about Saudi Arabia? There has been a systematic attempt by certain quarters in our country to emulate the kingdom in as many ways as possible. Does Saudi Arabia put religion on the certificates it bestows upon students successfully completing their degree courses? Again, at least a web search does not suggest so. The same goes for Iran, which does not display religion on academic degrees.

Why should this hang around our necks like an albatross? One does not want to judge anyone too harshly. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that the Tando Jam University is guilty only of neglect and not of premeditated malice. Maybe it’s just an oversight, the oft-cited ‘clerical error’ that has gone under the radar so far. If that be the case, it should not be so difficult to correct the mistake and erase this embarrassment for the land whose inhabitants are the heirs of Bhitai and Sachal. After all, it is the riot of colour in the patchwork of rilli that makes it beautiful.

The writer is a poet and analyst.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2019