Ali Eteraz, guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 April 2008
Hindus in Pakistan have suffered grievously since the founding of the nation in 1947. Recently, in the southern province of Sindh, a Hindu man was accused of blasphemy and beaten to death by his co-workers. This comes at the heels of the abduction and dismemberment of a Hindu engineer.
A little while earlier, the military removed 70 Hindu families from lands where they had been living since the 19th century. To this day the temples that Pakistanis destroyed in 1992 in response to the destruction of the Babri mosque in India have not been restored.
Pakistan, according to many accounts, was founded as a way to protect the rights and existence of the minority Muslim population of Colonial India in the face of the larger Hindu majority. Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is reported to have said in 1947: “In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims – not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of one state.” It is therefore a travesty of Pakistan’s own founding principles that its Hindus – and not to exclude Christians and Ahmadis – have suffered so grossly.
There are two levels of prejudice in Pakistan with respect to Hindus – the cultural and the legal.
While it is difficult to say which one is more pernicious, cultural prejudice is certainly more difficult to uproot because it is perpetuated by religious supremacism, nationalism, stories, myth, lies, families, media, schooling and bigotry.
Cultural prejudice has become part and parcel of language itself. Hindus are referred to as “na pak.” Na means “un” and pak means “pure.” So, Hindus are turned into the impure, or unclean. Given that the word “pak” is part of the word “Pakistan” – which means Land of the Pure – somebody’s impurity suggests that they are not really Pakistani.
To make matters even worse, Pakistani mullahs teach a very supremacist version of the Islamic creed, the kalima. Usually, the kalima reads simply: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His final messenger.” The version that children are taught, however, reads as follows: “The first kalima is Tayyab; Tayyab means Pak (Pure); There is no god but God and Muhammad is His final Messenger.”
Do you see how the word “Pak” – which denotes both purity and connects to citizenship in Pakistan – is smuggled into the Islamic creed? Since in Urdu this little ditty rhymes very effectively, this is the version of religiosity that most children repeat their entire lives. As a result, while they grow up, they psychologically equate Hindus with impurity, with uncleanliness, as not Pakistani, and therefore less than, both Islamically and as citizens.
The only two parties that can begin to bring some change in this arena are the state and the liberal clerics.
Last year Pakistan’s prime minister did greet Hindus during Diwali and a prominent Hindu nationalist leader – who had to quit his party because of his outreach – that was born in Karachi did come back and pay respects to his birth-city.
Cricket diplomacy, which began in 2004, helped a little (but not really, because the focus was on cricket and not on religion). Also, there are a few prominent Hindus here and there – one is a justice of the Supreme Court and one is the leading leg-spinner for the cricket team. Yet, as the Pakistani exile Tarek Fatah points out, Justice Bhagwandas had to take the oath on the Quran. Meanwhile, Kaneria is regularly excluded from the Pakistani cricket team’s congregational Islamic prayer.
As bad as the cultural prejudice is, legal prejudice is the one that must be more urgently dealt with, because it is what allows cultural prejudice to acquire institutional power.
Two laws in particular have been very problematic for the Hindu community.
The first one was promulgated under the 1973 constitution which made Islam the state religion of Pakistan and established a separate electorate for Muslims and non-Muslims so that Hindus could only vote for Hindu candidates. Musharraf abolished this in 2002. I think Muslims who support the idea of Islamic states around the world really need to stop and think about this for a second. It took an American-backed dictator in the year 2002 for a Muslim state to abolish unequal voting? As a wise man once said: are you kidding me? This is a deplorable commentary on the state of equality in today’s Islam.
The second law is the infamous blasphemy law passed under Islamist dictator Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. Designed specifically to punish the Ahmadi minority, the blasphemy law now provides convenient protection to anyone who ever wants to kill, murder, maim, beat up, mug, abduct, or punish any religious minority. All you really have to do is carry out your brutality and then point at the victim and say that he was blasphemous.
This law needs to be repealed immediately: no reform, no fixing, no tweaking, but total abolishment. Efforts to repeal it under Musharraf failed in the Senate. The secular parliament in session now is probably not going to touch it unless it is told to do so by international groups (who frankly aren’t really interested). The UN, EU, US, and International Council of Jurists must make some noise about repealing Pakistan’s heinous blasphemy law.
There are little more than three million Hindus in Pakistan (a nation of 160 million). They are still part of Pakistani life and need to be treated with respect and dignity. According to some sources, at the founding of Pakistan, Hindus comprised nearly 15% of the country’s population and now number barely 2%. Many have left, many have been killed, and many have converted to other religions to protect themselves. All in all, a travesty for a state that was created with the intended purpose of protecting minorities.