ETHICS & POWER
Pak should revisit Jinnah’s vision
By Ram Jethmalani
Pakistan must embrace the modernity and secularism pronounced by their founding father.
There have been recurring but continuous incidents reported during the last few years of religious intolerance intensifying in Pakistan against all minorities — be it the Shias, Ahmadis, Christians or Hindus. And though not really a minority group, but certainly as disempowered as them, are women in Pakistan, of several sects and socio-economic groups, who continually face the hard brunt of intolerance.
The spectre of Talibanization looms large over Pakistan. It is a tragedy that there was a complete derailment of Pakistani society to develop on modern and secular lines, aborted by the military dictator General Zia ulHaq, who misused Islamisation as a buttress to perpetuate military despotism. The Blasphemy Law became an invincible weapon in the hands of any public authority or self appointed vigilantes to commit any act of atrocity and inhumanity under its pretext. Punishments are barbaric — stoning to death, especially of women, public lashings and public beheadings.
I have been reading with great pain regarding recurring reports of young Hindu girls being abducted, forcibly converted and married, especially in Sind, which now is home to the largest percentage of Hindus living in Pakistan, though their numbers have been dwindling exponentially, either through forced conversion or distress migration. But what is heartening is that the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and the Pakistani press, particularly Dawn, have come out very critically regarding atrocities being committed against the minorities, apart from the fact that these incidents have been reported extensively by the national and international media.
These events take me back to the speech that President Muhammad Ali Jinnah made to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947. After making reference to the primary duties of the government regarding law and order, protection of life, property and religious beliefs of the people, and to eradicate corruption, he adverted to the inevitable tragedy of partition. His exhortation to the new nation needs to be recalled:
"Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.
"I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish...
"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.
(Hindu pilgrims arrive in India from Pakistan via the Attari-Wagah border on 11 August )
"We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.
"Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State...
"My guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your support and co-operation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world."
Sadly, the dream of the great founder of Pakistan has been shattered and his passionate exhortation totally forgotten.
The last few months have witnessed a large influx of Hindu families from Pakistan's Punjab crossing over at the Attari border, stating that they would not like to return to Pakistan, in the atmosphere of insecurity, intimidation and religious intolerance. Similar is the case of 170 Hindus from Sind who have recently arrived at Jodhpur and refuse to go back because of social and religious persecution. These are not stray border crossings but desperate pogrom-based migrations. Their magnitude has triggered debate in Parliament as well as on national television channels, which are generally quite wary of taking up majoritarian issues.
What should be the response of the Indian people? We should tell the people of Pakistan that we respect the teaching of their founder much more than they do, and that we shall not become another failed primitive state in our responses. We will steadfastly maintain the equality and dignity of all citizens and never weaken the main pillar of our Constitutional edifice our pledge to remain secular and dedicated to a life guided by reason and inspired by peace and love.
But the sorry fate of the recurring stream of Hindu migrants from Pakistan should be taken up with utmost seriousness by the government. These unfortunate victims have managed to escape from cruel religious and social persecution, in extremely hazardous and hostile conditions. Under contemporary international law, they are entitled to seek refuge and protection from us, who almost readily conceded partition of the country on religious lines, but had the enlightenment and courage to set up a non-theocratic polity. Our Constitution proclaims commitment to international law, and this law mandates asylum to those genuinely seeking it. We have provided it for Tibetans and we cannot act dishonourably by denying it to our "very own".
As for Pakistan, I earnestly entreat them to revisit the vision and words of their great founder President, embrace the modernity and secularism pronounced by him, and follow the Golden Rule: treat your religious minorities as you would have other civilised nations treat their religious minorities.