Nothing damages pluralism in a state more than a statute, which attempts to impose the majority’s ritual values while impinging upon fundamental rights of a minority. The Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance of 1981 achieves exactly that. The Ordinance bars any person, who is ‘under obligation to fast’, from eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the fasting hours of Ramazan. Similarly in those hours, restaurants and hotels are not allowed to serve food to such persons.
Anyone found in contravention of this Ordinance can face maximum imprisonment of three months. Its recent implementation resulted in 25 arrests only in Faisalabad.
After three decades since Zia-ul-Haq promulgated this Ordinance, the law still has many takers. Any government will think twice before scrapping this Ordinance as doing so will invite the irk of conservative elements. The law itself is ambiguous and clashes with other clauses of our constitution. No wonder the dictator felt the need to protect the Ordinance with this clause:
“The provisions of this Ordinance shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force.”
The argument that the law’s primary purpose is to maintain sanctity of the Holy month has no ground to stand on. The Ordinance clearly deals with only people who are ‘under obligation to fast’. Legally speaking, non-Muslims or Muslims who are not under obligation can still eat in public. But then again who amongst us wear their faith on sleeve in public? Or is it something marked on the foreheads? As a result, the minority is susceptible to this law as well.
Yet, many of us still continue to live in delusion – believing that implementation of such laws will protect our faith from our own indulgences; or somehow the ‘spirit of Ramazan’ is being enforced providing us with some semblance of living in an ‘Islamic State’. It is supposed to give respite to our collective conscience that the mores and norms of majority are being translated into laws.
Forget the fact that a sick man, who of course carries no certificate waiving his ‘obligation’, going on work away from home, cannot eat in public places. Forget the fact that the spirit of Ramazan is endangered by street-side Dhabhas where the working class eats and not by the flurry of food commercials on our TV screens. Forget the fact that the restaurants are now closed for all – for under ‘obligation’ ones and for others alike. After all, according to article 20 of our constitution:
“In respect of access to places of public entertainment or resort not intended for religious purposes only, there shall be no discrimination against any citizen on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth.”
If the real purpose of the Ordinance was to force the Muslims to fast, then we have seen too many similar experiments from Zia’s era to know the futility of it. That is why some rituals, values and a particular way of life are meant to be ‘facilitated’ and not ‘imposed’.
Let us not fool ourselves. It is primarily a question of letting each and every citizen of this country exercise his basic right to consume food/drinks whenever, wherever he wants to. It is ridiculous to think that majority would take away this basic fundamental right in order to address its sensitivities. It translates into, your freedom ends where my sight goes.
Ali Baraan is a critic.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.