Monday September 25, 2023

Empowering non-Muslims

February 28, 2017

The Pakistan Movement was a purely democratic and peaceful struggle to protect the rights of common people. It is, however, very unfortunate that a country that was founded to protect the rights of the Muslim minority in British India is today seen as a Muslim-majority country where the rights of non-Muslim minorities are being violated on a larger scale.

During his historic address to the first Constitutional Assembly of Pakistan in August 1947, Quaid-e-Azam had asked non-Muslim Pakistani citizens, largely consisting of Hindus, to stay in Pakistan because they would be treated as equal citizens in the eyes of Pakistani government. He had added that religious freedom would also be ensured to them.  

The appointment of Jogendra Nath Mandal as the country’s first law minister also served as a ray of hope for the frightened Hindus who had been living peacefully on Pakistani soil for centuries and had cancelled their plans to migrate to India. At the time of Independence, nearly one-fourth of the Pakistani population (around 23 percent) comprised non-Muslims, which according to the official record has now been reduced to six percent.

Interestingly, Quaid-e-Azam, in his speech at Islamia College Peshawar in April 1948 said, “The demand for Pakistan was not just for the sake of a piece of land but for obtaining a laboratory where the principles of Islam could be adopted”. This part of his speech was widely publicised to visualise Pakistan as a theocratic state.

Although the deviation from Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of a peaceful Pakistan for all citizens – the massacre of Hindu citizens and occupation of their properties – was initiated at the very beginning of the country’s administrative affairs, the approval of the Objectives Resolution in March 1949 created a clear division between Muslim and non-Muslim politicians in the power corridors as well. All Muslim members except for Mian Iftikharuddin voted in favour of it while all the non-Muslims opposed it.

At that time, nobody was in the mood to listen Kumar Datta, a Hindu politician from East Pakistan, who warned that, “If this resolution came in [the] life of Jinnah, it would not have come in its present form. Let us not do anything which [will] lead our generation to blind destiny”. Serious concerns shown by non-Muslim politicians on the occasion were proven right as the eastern part of Pakistan was lost just 20 years later. However, the resolution has not been implemented in its true spirit till today, and doubts in the minds of non-Muslims still exist.

Pakistan, according to the constitution, is a democratic parliamentary republic state with its political system based on an elected form of governance. However, throughout history, deviation from democracy, both in the form of dictatorships and political uncertainty, has existed. It is believed that in the 20th and 21st centuries, the most extreme atrocities were committed against minorities under dictatorial regimes throughout the world. Pakistan was no exception: under the Zia regime, strict religious laws were enforced on non-Muslims.

The rulers in the past failed to understand that although Pakistan was founded in the name of religion and that majority of its population is Muslim, using majority rule to deny basic rights to non-Muslim minorities is inexcusable. According to the latest report by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the number of non-Muslim votes stands at 2.99 million where Hindu voters have a dominating majority (1.49 million). Empowering non-Muslim citizens in the state institutions would be beneficial for Pakistan on national and international levels.

The appointment of late Rana Bhagwan Das as the acting chief justice of Pakistan was a positive step. Non-Muslims holding offices at important institutions like the State Bank of Pakistan or the Planning Commission of Pakistan, can send a positive message across. A non-Muslim Pakistani ambassador to a strategically important country can present the case of Pakistan in a very efficient way. Similarly, to counter the anti-Pakistan bias and propaganda on the international arena, a non-Muslim foreign or information minister could really help Pakistan’s case. The appointment of a non-Muslim provincial governor by the federal government will not only strengthen the federation but will also win the hearts and minds of non-Muslim citizens. Furthermore, the chapter of electoral rigging can also be closed if there is a non-Muslim election commissioner responsible for organising and conducting elections to state parliament, provincial legislatures, local governments and the office of president.

There is also a dire need for the implementation of the Liaquat-Nehru Pact which calls for the appointment of a non-Muslim chairperson to the Evacuee Trust Property Board. The chairperson will take care of the places of worship and evacuee properties attached to educational, charitable or religious trusts left behind by the Hindus and the Sikhs who had migrated to India after Partition.

Today, we have a democratic setup where the current government is a result of the first transition of power from one democratically-elected government to the next in our 66-year history. To strengthen democracy in Pakistan and project the country’s positive democratic image on all platforms, a number of bold steps are required so that the international community is reassured that Pakistan is protecting the rights and self-identity of its non-Muslim citizens. Once this is achieved, non-Muslim Pakistani citizens will also be in a better position to participate in and contribute to their country’s development.


The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council. Twitter: @RVankwani