How far are we from the vision with which Pakistan was founded?
oday’s date marks Pakistan as an independent state for 75 years. It is a big number – congratulations. What better way to commemorate this occasion than to revisit the first speech Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered when Pakistan achieved independence in 1947? The following is a short excerpt from that speech: “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.” Let these words sink in a little deeper. If you have ever discriminated against anyone based on what sect they belong to and what religion they follow. Let’s take this a step further and include gender-based discrimination as well.
The demand for Pakistan was based on the fact that a large minority was being persecuted by a permanent majority. To safeguard an entire community’s well-being the grave task, that did not come cheap, was undertaken. On the 75th anniversary of this nation, it is rather ironic to see the state of affairs as to the country’s treatment of its minorities –Christians, Hindus and the various sects within Islam. Google each of these adding “in Pakistan” after and the situation will reveal itself to be rather grim, to say the least. While it is easy to blame the state for the sticky situation the nation is trapped in today, it is perhaps the right occasion for introspection on an individual level as well.
A few years back I was visiting a friend for lunch. We were all sitting around the table, eating, sharing stories and generally having a great time when a bowl of haleem was brought in by one of her domestic workers. “The neighbours have sent it,” said the helper. I looked at the dish which was garnished with ginger, fried onions and green chillies and then at the naan carefully wrapped in a cloth to maintain the temperature. What a fantastic combo. As I reached for the spoon to get myself a helping I was abruptly interrupted by the host, declaring that I shouldn’t go ahead as the neighbours belonged to a different sect. Some five years later I still remember that jolt of disgust churning in my stomach as I sat through the rest of the meal. How far have we come from the vision that inspired Pakistan?
When we are comfortable with believing nasty narratives about people from different castes and creeds and pass them down to our children and use them in casual conversations – the prosperity and progress of the nation will always be affected. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places 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,” said Jinnah, but today the social contract stands modified as: you may be free to visit your places of worship but we will drag you out, make it difficult for you to land jobs and earn an honest living, protect your right to live in dignity as an equal citizen and fellow human, remove your from important government positions even though we are the ones that will be poorer for it.
Happy 75th anniversary to us.
The author is a writer and journalist based in Lahore. She has studied at Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism On the 75th anniversary of this nation, it is rather ironic to see the state of affairs as to the country’s treatment of its minorities.