There has been an increasing sense of ‘otherness’ in our society. Those who are non-Muslim, or labelled as such, no longer appear to form a part of the social whole. We think of them, if we think of them at all, as ‘minority’ groups worth only a token mention now and then or an odd social media message by those who term themselves ‘liberals’, congratulating them on important occasions. Yet the festivals and holy days which make up an important component of the lives of people who are equal citizens of the state of Pakistan essentially go ignored. Last week saw the festivals of Nawroz and Holi, and just round the corner lies Easter. Very little official recognition – if any – is given to any of our ‘minority’ festivals. Indeed, in our textbooks, at our schools and in our public places we have made a deliberate effort to wipe away these festivals and in some cases even outright frown upon their celebration.
Yet, ironically enough, we gush with praise for New Zealand and its Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. Of course, she and her country deserve this praise. But should we not be looking inward and consider why we cannot be equally respectful of the feelings, lives and sentiments of smaller groups living in our country. The gestures made by the people and government of New Zealand following the Christchurch massacre have meant a great deal to Muslims around the world. They have brought some light into the lives of those living in New Zealand, and reminded them that the people of that country do not stand with the white supremacist fanatic who carried out the killings. We should be considering how we can deliver similar messages in a country where the forced conversion of Hindu and Christian women, the murder of Ahmadis and attacks on the places of worship of all minority communities is not an uncommon event.
Pakistan has recently moved up eight places on the World Happiness Index for 2019. This ranking is in many ways a social construct. But we do need to think about how happiness and the harmony which is required to promote it can be developed within our public space and brought into our national discourse. We no longer think of Pakistan as a diverse nation but impose upon it a uniform, stifling identity. This can hardly add to the happiness of those we see as the ‘other’, and leaves us as a nation a little poorer and a little more deprived of the ability to embrace all our citizens.