“If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. We should begin to work in that spirit and in time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities […] the Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and […] the Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis, will vanish”
It was Jinnah’s 11th August 1947 speech to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan that set the ideological premise of the new country; a speech that is presently seldom mentioned or intentionally disregarded in the echelons of power. While our founding father was being designated the first president of the new Constituent Assembly, the clarity of his vision transcended time and place. He envisioned a neutral state that would guarantee the life, property, and freedom to practice one’s own faith; he conceived a just society infused with the spirit of unity without losing an acute sense of individual identity; moreover, he conceptualized a union that would go beyond mere descriptions of caste, creed, and religion. Whether termed as a staunch secularist or a clairvoyant Muslim nationalist, Jinnah’s farsighted wisdom holds the power to identify a thriving and diverse sociopolitical fabric of Pakistan; one based on dignity and respect, positive inclusion, religious freedom, and assured political representation and equal participation.
Yet 69 years on, the very principles upon which a ‘Pakistani nationhood’ was founded remains a distant dream for the fledgling democratic state. An underrepresented and culturally and economically dominated minority that went on to gain a separate homeland from the greater union of India now increasingly treats its own minorities with either misplaced contempt, distrust, calculated sympathy, or with unwavering oblivion.
But where the words of our founding father could help alleviate this existential confusion, they have instead been obliterated from our national consciousness altogether. This momentous piece of Partition literature remains missing from our national archives, including the Pakistan Broadcast Corporation (PBC). Despite concerted efforts to recover and publicize these historic words , it is a wonder why they’ve been assigned to the back rooms of history; what is even more astonishing is that these words have not become the very bedrock of a modern democratic Pakistan.
Since its inception, the nascent country has had to grapple with the problem of defining itself as either a secular democracy founded on religious principles or a modern Islamic state founded on democratic principles- to be sure both terms become an oxymoron in our modern political set up. While it is the elementary duty of the state to provide for and protect its citizens without any form of discrimination, more often than not the state becomes implicit in polarizing society between an undefined yet influential majority and a definite classified minority. In the last three decades, Pakistan has knowingly or unknowingly not legislated enough laws that would safeguard and guarantee the interests and rights of minorities. In fact, in the last decade the country has been marred with extremist ideologies and militancy that has not only marginalized communities but has accelerated their alienation from state and society.
In Pakistan, minorities are classified in three categories: religious, sectarian, and political. Non-Muslim religious communities like Christians, Hindus, and Parsis have moved away due to increased persecution, forced conversion, destruction of places of worship, and blackmailing. Not only are they constitutionally barred from becoming the head of state but are routinely provoked under the guise of blasphemy. Sectarian groups in Pakistan, including a vast Shia population, face instances of sectarian violence and targeted killing on a regular basis. This unrest is often attributed to a spill-over of Middle Eastern proxy wars. In addition, with changing urban demographics of educated youth and politically aware sections of society, a third category has emerged: women, trans-genders, artists, and liberal intellectuals. Mass anti-Christian, anti-Ahmadiya, and anti-Shia campaigns are prime examples of violence fomented by sectarian groups and formerly state sponsored outfits. Moreover, traditional oppressive practices against women like Karo Kari, acid attacks, and honor killings is on the rise despite state sanctioned laws that criminalize these offenses. In recent years, the ‘gender question’ in Pakistan has gained popularity culminating in the national assembly enacting laws that prohibit rape, acid attacks, sexual harassment- and now the pending bill against honor killing.
But despite many efforts by civil society groups, politicians, activists, and non-governmental advocacy organizations, over the years prominent critics of the blasphemy law, known proponents of a reformed penal code, and social and feminist activists have been silenced, maimed, and extinguished.
What becomes obvious is that there exists a dominant view in Pakistan that is not only increasingly intolerant, prejudiced, and predisposed to knee jerk reactions of aggression, but is carefully crafted to retain a power base pitted against a pluralistic and diverse society. It is time we ask ourselves the fundamental question: who are we? If Pakistan is not a secular state, then Islam essentially guarantees the minorities their freedom; if it is not an Islamic state, then secular ideals ensure basic rights. It is time we stop super-imposing an anti-Hindu, anti-India identity on ourselves and recognize the pieces of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic mosaic. More importantly, we need to redefine the very meaning of ‘nationalism’, empower an assorted political community, and take back our religion from the clutches of extremism; a point of view that is gaining immense popularity with the silent but peaceful and tolerant aggregate of the country.
Rather than painting Jinnah a purely Islamic leader, lets not forget his westernized secular inclination, a product of this modern world and part of his Muslim identity. Instead of muddling Jinnah’s state philosophy, lets encourage a more progressive, inclusive, and equitable atmosphere that assures its citizens their basic rights, whether they identify with the minority or the majority is no business of the state; as they say, justice is blind, and it should remain so.