It has been five years since August 11 was marked as the Minorities Day in Pakistan – thanks to the efforts of late Shehbaz Bhatti, the former religious affairs minister who was gunned down by the militants. It seems that with every passing year, successive governments are losing their zeal and interest in reiterating the promise to protect the rights of minorities. This year again one could not see anything apart from a token statement by the President. Perhaps the whole government was too busy trying to save itself from the upcoming tsunami of revolution from Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri. It’s also worth noting that of all the issues that the political opposition has picked up to score points against the government, the plight of minorities was deemed too unpopular to find a significant mention.
The rationale behind declaring 11th of August as Minorities Day indeed extends beyond the rights of minorities. It was the same date in 1947 when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation, gave a historic address before the Constituent Assembly about the idea of Pakistan. The address talks not just about the status of minorities in the future republic of Pakistan; it also highlights in clearest terms some of the basic principles which should have been the grundnorm of future structure of the state. While saying “you may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”, Jinnah clearly stipulated the future role of religion in the state building. Had this point been understood and embraced in its original form, we could have avoided a number of succeeding issues. Instead, starting from the introduction of Objective Resolution, we took a different path going in the opposite direction of the founding father’s vision.
The context of the August 11 speech also tells a lot about the intended status and role of religious minorities in Pakistan. At that time, Pakistan’s first law minister was a Hindu, foreign minister an Ahmadi, while the Commander in Chief of the Army was a Christian. It is quite symbolic of what kind of role religious minorities were to play in the future state of Pakistan. This fact is also very significant evidence in another closely related issue; whether Pakistan was supposed to be an Islamic state or not. In today’s Pakistan, this is almost impossible to imagine, a ghastly reminder of the extent to which religious minorities have been marginalized in the affairs of the state.
Being so deeply rooted in the idea of Pakistan, the status and role of minorities is not a marginal issue. Persecution of minorities and the prevalent discrimination against them is nothing less than an attack on the rationale and vision of Pakistan as encapsulated in Jinnah’s historic address. Moreover if we are to mature as a nation and bring in the true ideal of democracy, we have to let go with the conception of a permanent majority and minority.
Pointing out all the sufferings of minorities in Pakistan, especially of the religious ones, is a subject of separate discussion. Sufficient to mention here that with every passing year, it is worsening exponentially, while the number of groups who qualify as minority is also increasing rapidly through practices such as takfirism.
Presuming that government is not all too ignorant about the plight of minorities, it must take some concrete measures instead of just issuing token statements. A good starting point would be to take the Supreme Court’s recent judgment on the rights of minorities seriously and start acting upon the directions issued by the court.