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Aggressive discrimination

April 18, 2013

IN the mad race for power that has affected participants and spectators alike nobody seems to be bothered about the havoc being wrought by intolerance-driven violence.

For several months, the 20 or so Ahmadi families living in village Shamsabad, in Chunian tehsil of Kasur district, not far from the Punjab capital, have been subjected to harassment and violence by the majority community because of their belief.

A public meeting organised by a man who had just returned from Europe declared all Ahmadis living in the village liable to be killed. They were told to abandon their faith or leave the village. Mob rule followed. Ahmadis were persecuted in various ways. Some labourers were driven out of the village. After repeated complaints a police post was ordered to be set up in the village but political influentials got this decision rescinded.

On March 25, about 50-60 armed men attacked the Ahmadi community leader and subjected him and his family members to violence and after beating him mercilessly left him for dead. The district coordination officer and the district police officer arrived, an FIR was registered but no action was taken against the culprits. Instead, the Ahmadis are being advised by the administration to make up with their tormentors, obviously on the latter’s terms. Quite a few people have their eyes on their lands — prized booty certainly.

In Lahore itself several Ahmadis were subjected to violence for distributing their newspaper, Al-Fazal, and then arrested on the charge of blasphemy.

Meanwhile, the news from Islamabad is that there will be no peace for Rimsha, the Christian girl who was acquitted by the Islamabad High Court of the charge of desecrating the Holy Quran. The complainant has appealed to the Supreme Court against the high court decision but no date of hearing has been fixed. Earlier, his petition had been dismissed by the Supreme Court for non-prosecution. The vengeful attitude of Rimsha’s persecutors is beyond reason and impossible to justify.

It is possible that the victims in these cases have done something to deserve being beaten up, booked under dreaded charges, and threatened with death. In that case let them be dealt with under the law. An administration that leaves the minorities at the mercy of overzealous vigilantes and their patrons in the police will not escape indictment for complicity — and worse.

The mischief must be suppressed forthwith, otherwise it will spread to a dangerous extent in the days before the next government takes over. But that is a relatively minor issue.

Far more important is the need to take a dispassionate view of what may be described as the third phase in the persecution of religious minorities and sects in Pakistan, under the heading: deliberate, aggressive discrimination.

In the first phase the minorities, like the poor belonging to the majority community, were at a disadvantage. They could not get good jobs because they lacked the means of qualifying. They had little access to justice or ability to engage the counsel of their choice because they could not afford the cost.

To be disadvantaged was bad enough but the state, goaded by preachers of intolerance, made the situation worse for the minorities by legalising their disadvantage. It did this by denying a non-Muslim the right to engage a non-Muslim lawyer to defend him in a Zia-made religious court, by denying a non-Muslim student admission to higher classes on merit, by barring Ahmadis from getting a commission in the army that fellow Ahmadis like generals Akhtar Malik and Abdul Ali had served with distinction.

As if the phase of state-sanctioned discrimination were not enough, the state has been blinking at the organised and large-scale persecution of minorities by non-state elements.

Some prominent manifestations of this form of persecution are: many individuals and groups have made it a profession to incite violence against the minority communities and kill them, and the state has done nothing to curb the menace; blasphemy charges are bandied around for the heck of it and the trend has been strengthened by the executive’s lack of will and by the accommodation allowed to mischief-makers by the courts in several cases.

A conference on the challenges faced by the religious minorities in South Asian countries held recently in Karachi by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research fully revealed the pattern of minorities’ persecution following the mixing of religion with politics in the law and constitution in several of these countries. Some of the most moving presentations were made by the victims of vigilante squads and police alacrity in throwing the victims of violence in jail instead of the culprits.

What is the source of the strength of the growing breed of non-state actors in this phase of organised, aggressive discrimination against the minority communities? In one sentence: a state that has been unhinged from its democratic moorings. The question all responsible citizens may ask themselves is: could there be a link between the rise of aggressive minority-baiting and the belief-dominated discourse on electoral matters?

Tailpiece: Those attacking the interior minister for recognising Nawaz Sharif are patently in the wrong. He would have risked his job if he had spoken well of Asif Zardari or Asfandyar Wali or even Altaf Hussain. The laws made to deal with patwaris and head constables cannot be applied to the chosen few, who are so busy refurbishing their reputation for piety that they do not have time to notice the systematic annihilation of ANP candidates and cadres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What a simple way of cleaning Pakistan of the opponents of bigotry and extremism.