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-Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan

Amidst numerous incidents of chaos, anarchy, hatred and fundamentalism, finding solace in hope of a peaceful future is the only choice left for many people living in the country. It is during such times when great leaders like Mahatama Gandhi are truly missed, who sacrificed their lives not only for the betterment of the society at large, but also fought day in and out for human rights. He dedicated his life to peace making and recently his birth anniversary, which was declared the International Day of Non-Violence by the United Nation, became a reason for Pakistan and India to stand united by paying respect to the man who propagated the philosophy of unity and peace in the most violent of times. It surely is a day such as this which give me hope for better times — times in which human rights are mutually respected and accepted beyond borders, religions and cultures.

Unfortunately, each act of communal rioting makes the sacrifices of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi go in vain. The act of an individual should not be taken as an excuse to instigate violence against other communities. Following the riots that stranded Karachi a few days ago, a group of armed assailants vandalised a Hindu temple on the outskirts of Karachi.

The attackers allegedly, broke all the religious statues, tore a copy of the Bhagwat Gita and stole all the jewelry belonging to Hindu women, leaving the helpless and poor caretaker in tears. As expected, the miscreants were able to escape from the scene; however, a case was registered against the culprits under the blasphemy law. Yes you read correctly, if caught, they will be tried under the blasphemy law — which has previously always been used against the minorities of Pakistan and for the first time will be referred to protect the aforementioned community which comprises less than two per cent of our population. Earlier, President Zardari condemned the attack on a church located in Mardan and instructed the authorities to take strict action against the attackers, calling their acts un-Islamic.

Whilst Pakistani officials, lawmakers and law enforcing agencies are gradually waking up from the decades-long slumber, our neighboring Bangladesh is embroiled in a conflict which erupted when the picture of a partially burned Holy Quran was seen on Facbook. A  Buddhist boy alleged of torching the Holy Quran was tagged in the picture and was the reason why infuriated Muslims torched down temples and homes belonging to Buddhists in Cox’s Bazar district.

Although hundreds of Bangladeshis have been arrested for the attacks, most of us know that sooner or later they will be released and the charges filed against them will be dropped. Perhaps the same treatment will be given to the Pakistani Muslims responsible for desecrating a temple and church.

We know for a fact that a vast majority of Muslims living in different countries are not in favour of any such religious violence and that the small minority of fundamentalists use innocent people to quench their thirst for more power and money. So the all important remains: How to save minorities and safeguard their interest in countries where fascist elements have the authority to maneuver situations to suit their advantage?

The plausible way is to formulate a set of laws which empowers the minorities and protects them against blasphemous acts done to their religious sites and sentiments. Perhaps a law which works against people not in favour of inter-faith harmony can be added to the constitution of Pakistan, aiming to protect non-Muslims who are threatened by the ubiquitous bigots ready to spread hatred at the drop of a hat. A law which encourages Christians to speak out against the atrocities they face in the name of blasphemy law, most often used by Muslims to settle personal scores. We are in dire need of a legislation which deters Muslims from abducting Hindu women and businessmen for forced conversions and ransom respectively.

Although, on the surface, the constitution of Pakistan vows to protect the Muslim and non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan, however, in practice we have yet to see a time when Ahmadis, Christians, Shias, Hindus and other religious communities were treated on the same footing with Sunni Muslims. In fact, all governments that have ruled Pakistan after 1977 have been unjust to minorities and indigenous communities, which became evident in 2011 when minority rights group ranked Pakistan as the sixth most dangerous country for minorities.

I personally believe that the declining ratio of Pakistani Hindus and Christian might jump up if the blasphemy law is repealed or at least revised.

I feel even when people refer to Jinnah’s most famous speech — you are free to go to your temples, churches and mosques — they fail to realise his mission. What all of us do not understand is that Pakistan was created for Muslims and not for Islam.

The country came into existence for a minority in United India. Isn’t it ironic that a nation once founded for minorities is now one of the top ranked countries where minorities are marginalised to heinous extents?

Unless precise and specific laws are developed for the non-Muslim and Muslim minorities of Pakistan, they will neither feel protected nor free to practice their religion in Pakistan. Simultaneously, in the absence of clear laws, the group of people who literally bank  upon communal violence for their interests will continue to grow.

It is time to show resolve and urge the government to repeal and introduce laws which will recognise minorities as equal and contributing citizens of Pakistan.

 


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com