This article has been written in a manner that it is addressed to Pakistani liberals.
There are certain positive developments in Pakistan that I wished to extend my solidarity with as a liberal from across the Indo-Pak border, but as I set out to write this piece, we had the news of the various acts of violent extremism against secularists and those from the minority religious groupings in Bangladesh and the shootout in Orlando, other than the ongoing fighting between the Pakistani and Afghan forces at this point of time. However, negativity has to be fought with positivity and we, the liberals, have to move forward with our agenda to defeat the agenda of those coming in our way than to feel pessimistic and bogged down, and these events indeed only further motivated me to pen this article.
However, given that this article is meant to be of a celebratory tenor with some humble advice, it would be necessary to also first, as mentioned above, acknowledge the recent tragedies that occurred in Bangladesh and the United States. The sheer display of barbarity and inhumanity in those attacks is similar to those exhibited in the terror attacks in the name of jihad in your country over the past decade or so, and many others in my country India since the late 1980s (which started with the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits, and all those people advancing rationalisations and conspiracy theories for the same are requested to read this article, and I must also mention with appreciation Pakistani liberals for having acknowledged the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus in recent years), and it is not just sufficient to condemn these atrocities, but to develop an ideological roadmap to rebut all those illiberal tendencies that run completely counter to modern values (religious freedom including apostasy, gender equality etc. are not negotiable in the name of cultural relativism) that culminate in these disgusting acts of violence against innocent civilians that uproot families, as I have discussed in this article on this portal. Equally, foreign policies of certain international powers guided by vested interests have wreaked havoc in places like Vietnam, Nicaragua, Congo, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere, and international law too does need to be strengthened.
Moving on, I must make it clear that this article acknowledging positive developments in Pakistan has not been written out of any patronizing desire, and I do wholeheartedly acknowledge that my country India also has a long way to go in eliminating socio-political identity clashes based on religion and other factors, and in ensuring that the rights of women and the poor are safeguarded, and I have even written extensively on the same too.
In fact, as someone who is committed to human rights globally and as someone who has a particular attachment to our South Asia, I am writing this piece as a heartfelt acknowledgement of whatever good has happened in the spirit of solidarity with the liberal and progressive forces in your country. Of course, much more does indeed need to be done to make Pakistan a better place, and the same is true for India too.
To start with, heartiest congratulations on the government of your province Khyber Pakhtunwa allocating funds for the welfare of transgenders after you, Pakistani liberals, spoke up for transgenders’ rights in the wake of one transgender sadly being denied medical treatment.
Further, congrats on the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, who killed liberal politician Salman Taseer for raising his voice against the blasphemy law in your country, especially misused against your Christian minority. While many Pakistanis have indeed unfortunately given Qadri the halo of martyrdom, the execution of this death penalty will at least make it clear that the law shall not spare violent extremists acting against minorities or those from the majority speaking up for the minorities. However, more needs to be done.
The blasphemy law under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code needs to be repealed once and for all with retrospective effect. Section 295A of the Pakistan Penal Code on outraging religious sentiments (its Indian counterpart dating to colonial times also still exists, and which even Mr. Jinnah had a role in drafting, and he said that a well-researched academic critique of a historical figure regarded as a prophet would not be punishable under that provision) can stay for the time-being, and its existence can be cited as a valid reason to do away with the unnecessary additional blasphemy law.
A climate must be created wherein Pakistani non-Sunnis in rural areas don’t feel the need to leave their country, and so, urgent police reforms and judicial reforms are required so that minorities feel secure, and a reformed law-and-order machinery would even help the country as a whole a great deal. Pakistani Christians who have migrated to Thailand and are facing harsh circumstances there should be asked to come back, once the blasphemy law is repealed, and duly compensated. I am also glad that a policeman harassing a Pakistani Hindu for eating during Ramzan has been arrested, and am well aware of your committed human rights activists from the Sunni majority speaking up for the religious minorities.
However, exemplary punishment like which was awarded to Mumtaz Qadri also needs to be meted out to those in Pakistan who have inflicted acts of terror upon innocent civilians in India, Afghanistan and Iran, which can pave the way for the resolution of disputes and a peaceful, prosperous South Asia.
As an Indian citizen, I would particularly emphasize that we, Indians, would like to see the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks convicted (I would request all those advocating conspiracy theories about the same to read this article). And yes, we do appreciate the headway made in the investigations in this matter by Pakistani officers, and as your officer Tariq Khosa has pointed out, the trial has dragged for far too long, and we would like it to conclude soon with the perpetrators given exemplary punishment.
Practically, some structural changes do need to be made in your state machinery. For that, the Pakistani politicians and civil society may turn to study the history of countries like Bangladesh that other issues notwithstanding, has a history of military coups but helped avert the same in the future.
To work towards creating a terror-free climate in South Asia before the Kashmir issue can be negotiated upon (what negotiating upon the Kashmir issue can entail can be the subject of another article altogether) would also give Pakistan the opportunity to raise its concerns about the alleged Indian interference in Balochistan. At the same time, the Pakistani establishment must also introspect as to its own blunders in Balochistan. Pakistanis citing reports of international human rights organisations pertaining to India-administered Kashmir, out of confirmation bias, often shy away from believing reports from those very organisations about human rights violations by elements in the Pakistani military in Balochistan (which is certainly not to deny excesses by Baloch rebels), and such human rights violations have also been acknowledged by your Supreme Court. Balochistan has its own complex history, and out of a commitment to human rights values globally (which also makes me concerned for Gazans, Kurds, Red Indians, Maoris and others) and not out of any desire to otherwise interfere in Pakistani domestic affairs, I would humbly submit that the 15-point resolution on Balochistan adopted by your Supreme Court Bar Association, which was supported by many of your political parties, must be implemented effectively on a priority basis to start with.
A very positive development in your country has indeed been the introduction of a marriage registration law for your Hindu minority, which had unfortunately not been in existence earlier. Pressure to not give women the right to divorce from male chauvinists in Pakistan’s Hindu community has been resisted, which is very good too. Earlier, it would be almost impossible for Pakistani Hindus to prove that they are married. This allowed the Muslim extremists to exploit the Hindu women, particularly by forcing them into marriages with Muslim men. There were three failed attempts at having a framework to register Hindu marriages in Pakistan in 2008, 2011 and in 2012, after which in 2016, the bill has been passed by the Sindh assembly as well. The Punjab assembly is still due to pass this bill, which should not be delayed further, and all provinces must, in fact, pass it, even those with an absolutely miniscule Hindu population.
However, it must be noted that a proposed clause that invalidates the marriage on any of the spouses changing his/her religion is rightly being considered very problematic, given the history of forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam in rural areas. Why not instead make conversion by either spouse a ground of divorce, rather than annul the marriage? This should be done as soon as possible; else, this new legislative proposal may partially defeat the very purpose it has set out to achieve.
Strong laws against caste discrimination among Hindus, as they exist in India, indeed also ought to be introduced in Pakistan. It is often contended that a hereditary and hierarchical caste system has no basis in the Vedas, and is a gross misinterpretation. The often-cited Purush Sukt of the Rigved talking of castes emerging from different body parts of the creator can be interpreted in a completely different fashion, given that God, as per the Vedas and Upanishads, like, for example, the Quran, is formless, and in that context, He has been ascribed names based on His attributes, like ‘Brahma’ for being the creator (the Quran uses the term Al Khaliq for God in the same context, and even the Quran does metaphorically refer to God as having eyes, hands etc.), and so, the creator manifesting itself in the creation of the human society meant that different occupations served as all being integral to the society as body parts, not about any being superior or inferior. Also, the Purush Sukt even refers to Earth, revered as a mother-goddess, as having emerged from the feet of the creator! Also, the very same Rigved also carries a verse talking of how a certain person follows a different occupation from both his parents, which shows that caste was initially neither meant to be hereditary nor hierarchical.
Next, that the positive role of the religious minorities in nation-building in Pakistan is being emphasized in school textbooks is a step in the right direction, though more needs to be done in this regard in terms of employing education as a medium to dispel prejudices based on religious identity.
The proposal for allowing the minority religious groupings in Pakistan to observe holidays on their festivals is also a good initiative.
I must also state that while I welcome these developments, I didn’t even earlier have a grossly exaggerated image of minority problems in Pakistan, serious as they indeed are, and I know you have produced prominent public figures from the minority communities, as discussed here.
Next, coming to women.
To start with, congrats on your country’s women’s cricket team’s victory against ours in the T20 world cup (the reverse being the case in the men’s tournament). The successes of your women’s team has inspired more girls to take to sports, according to your captain Sana Mir, who is by the way, like many other Pakistani women, fond of Indian sarees. Also, this picture from the match between our women’s teams is truly heartwarming and reflects the true spirit of sportsmanship (well, why isn’t there a gender-neutral word?).
Shahid Afridi, who had contended that Pakistani Pathan girls are best only at cooking, would do well to reconsider his position, also given the long history of excellent male cooks in Muslim societies! How about him trying his hand at preparing biryani for the women’s team?
Sport is a great means of empowering girls, and I have discussed some steps that can be taken in this regard in this article of mine, which also discusses the issue in the light of Islamic theology. The Women on Wheels rally of female motorcyclists in Lahore this year was also a step in the right direction.
Also, Afridi, who suggested that Pathan girls excel only at cooking, would do well to acknowledge how girls from Peshawar have come up with brilliant biotechnological devices like batteries and lamps powered by micro-organisms and blood thinners for stroke patients.
Your country has indeed preceded ours in having women as fighter-pilots and paratroopers! Your former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, a woman, also made quite a fashion statement in India! Both our countries have had a woman as the prime minister. Your country has also introduced reservations for women in legislatures, something some are trying for in India as well, but that isn’t something I personally support, as I have discussed in some detail here.
The passing of the Women’s Protection Act in your province of Punjab has also been a great milestone to protect women from domestic violence or expulsion from their homes. Indeed, the human rights commission and other such bodies must ensure that it is implemented to the tee. It is good that the law also carries a penalty for women filing false complaints. This law should be introduced across your country. Also, the new legislative proposal of allowing light beating of women mooted by some of your clerics ought to be trashed.
Further, that a Pakistani woman Sharmeen Obaid Chenoy won an Oscar for a documentary film raising its voice for the female victims of acid attacks in Pakistan. That such problems exist in the developing world is indeed not unknown to Westerners, but that there are empowered women in these societies taking up these causes is something that needs to be emphasised more, which Chenoy has done. And for that, she indeed only ought to be lauded.
Besides, when it comes to human suffering, help and support from activists from all quarters should indeed only be welcome, for which generation of awareness is important. So, this shouldn’t be seen through the prism of national shame. Besides, as this article points out, if a foreigner like Brandon Stanton can be internationally appreciated for speaking up for Pakistani victims (in his case, of bonded labour), then why not Chenoy?
Also, congrats on your parliament building being the first in the world to run entirely on solar power and Master MultyFoam, a company in your country designing a billboard that can be adjusted into a foam mattress so that labourers can sleep better at night.
To all those liberals in Pakistan seeking tolerance of people irrespective of the religious or non-religious views they may subscribe to, gender equality and a climate for productive channelization of energy like scientific research, art and sport in their own country, as also elsewhere globally, I must say that you have indeed achieved some significant milestones in the relatively recent past.
On behalf of all those Indians who wish for the same in our country, your country and elsewhere globally, I must say that we shall, without compromising on our national security, also fight all those jingoistic and extremist tendencies in our own country that deserve to be combated for their own sake and who indeed also strengthen extremists in your country (the same is indeed also true vice versa). In the process, it is also important that we, Indians as well as Pakistanis, should not, without verifying the facts, offer exaggerated narratives of extremism on the other side of the border (though the situation has indeed been worse in Pakistan, with, for example, absolutely no provision for marriage registration of Hindus until recently), even if some ‘intellectuals’ from that country portray such melodramatic rhetoric about their own country (indeed very common in India), for that actually only helps to feed jingoism and to perpetuate hatred and conflict. However, no political headway in better relations can be made and no inter-government talks will have any meaning till the Pakistani establishment effectively contains terrorism against India.
(Image Courtesy: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/33270/congratulations-pakistan-2/)