Minorities in Pakistan face one of the harshest climates in the country’s history. A society radicalized by law, and by the state is to blame.
There is much to be said about the state of affairs in Pakistan or the lack of state in the affairs in Pakistan. The latest from the country has been the gruesome murder of a Christian couple charged with blasphemy, and a murder by a police officer of a Christian man accused of blasphemy. There are the usual outcry from the international media decrying the law and the mobs that use the law as a crutch to deliver justice. The state also promises to take action, but the open and harsh truth is that it can do very little. Irrespective of what happens to the perpetrators of this gruesome crime or what the government does to prevent these kinds of mob justice, the reality on ground is that minorities in Pakistan are confronting one of the harshest climates in the country’s history and their fight for survival while retaining their identity is taking a turn for the worse.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in October, announced that more than 300,000 religious minorities had migrated from Balochistan to other parts of Pakistan and outside the country to escape religious persecution. Shias, Shia Hazaras, Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians, Zikris have been forced to flee their homes amidst targeted campaigns that have sought to decimate their populations from Pakistan. The HRCP has reported that more than 700 Shias have been killed in sectarian violence in the last two years and almost 4,000 since 2000. Britain meanwhile is getting ready to deport Liaquat Ali Hazara, a campaigner for persecuted minorities who sought asylum in Britain after death threats were issued.
The issue is not just about laws that blatantly discriminates against minorities, or about state support for institutions that openly call for minority execution or marginalization. It is about a radical kind of religiosity that has seeped into society itself. The vehemence with which minority rights are violated by provincial institutions like schools, hospitals and the impudence that mobs have when confronting minorities can only happen when the state excuses itself from carrying out its duty.
That radicalism can be seen in the All Pakistan’s Private Schools Federation’s call for an “I am NOT Malala” day to protest against Malala Yousufzai. Her crime is that she has allowed herself to be built into something that contradicts Pakistan and Islam’s ideology and central tenets. The spread of this radicalism in society is also seen in a memo put out by the Higher Education Commision in Pakistan in October that explains
universities have a ‘great responsibility of promoting ideology and principles of Pakistan through teachings, dialogues, meetings, conferences, formal and informal gatherings and societal discourse. Demonstration of such rightful perceptions promote nationalism, dispel confusion and infuse beliefs and principles that brings harmony in a society and bolsters unity and performance.
and calls for universities to be vigilant about any activity that would challenge the above norms.
Minority marginalization has two facets in Pakistan; one is by law. The blasphemy laws and the ordinance XX laws specifically target Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. The law alongside constitutional definitions of who is a muslim and who is a non-muslim ensures that targeting minorities who do not abide by the law is made easy. The other facet is what the law does not mention. Emphasis of Sharia laws, and adopting standards of Sunni Islam as directives, Shia muslims have also been sidelined. Their lack of identity as a Sunni Muslim or a Non-muslim as defined by the constitution means the targeted attacks are very rarely seen as sectarian violence. The lack of a distinct identity has been as detrimental to them as identifying other groups as non muslims has been to the minority populations.
The radicalization of large sections of society in Pakistan is a result of these laws and the defense of these laws by successive governments. By giving credibility to the people who use these laws and by ensuring that indoctrination starts early, and results in tragedies that take on names like Shanti Nagar, Gojra, Joseph Colony, Ramsha Masih and now the Kot Radha Kishan massacre. The protests will call for justice against the murderers and an urgent need to review the law. Neither will happen anytime soon. Justice will not be given, for the state is absent and in its absence, the people who wield authority are the ones who ensured that the law was included in the constitution. The law will not be reviewed either, since it is required as a means to the end – a true and pure Islamic nation.