Last Friday, I saw a column by renowned analyst Javed Chaudhry on his website in which he mentioned how non-Muslim representation in Pakistan’s parliament back in 1947 was almost 25% while it has shrunk to just 5% in the modern-day Pakistan. It’s true that the major chunk of the non-Muslim Pakistanis actually lived in Bengal and the secession of Bengal from Pakistan in 1971 caused a large portion of the non-Muslims to be removed from Pakistan, the fact remains that we haven’t really been tolerant towards the religious minorities in this country after over the past seven decades. Yes, the secession of Bengal was clearly a reason but the fact remains that the non-Muslim communities have shrunk significantly on this side of the country as well.
It was Pervez Hoodbhoy, who at International Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights in London back in 2014 had highlighted how the Ahmadi, Parthi, Hindu and Christian Pakistanis had gradually vanished from the locality he used to live in back in Karachi during his childhood and youth days. The highly respected nuclear physicist and cultural critic told that there used to live several non-Muslims in his neighborhood but they all left the place one-by-one. Why, nobody knows. But if we dig a bit deeper into the matter, we might find out some reason.
In an article published in 2015, Saad Malik had reported how the number of Hindu temples in Pakistan had dropped from 428 in 1947 to just 20 in 2015 in Pakistan. Staggering as the number is, the story behind this sharp decline is even more depressing. It’s not that all the temples have been removed from the face of the earth or simply demolished after being abandoned by the Hindus, who simply left Pakistan after the independence. Many temples are still very much there and the Hindu community living in Pakistan still seeks the retrieval of their worship places but the authorities are probably completely unreceptive of their demands and the politicians wouldn’t want to risk their Muslim vote-bank for the sake of the non-Muslim vote-bank since the number of votes is far lower compared to the majority Muslim votes.
This is a country whose founding father was born in an Ismaili Shia family. Ismaili Shias are generally condemned as being infidels and apostates for their deviant beliefs. This is a country whose first foreign minister was an Ahmadi, a community that was en masse declared non-Muslim by none other than the supreme organ of the state i.e. parliament. This is a country whose first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly was a Hindu, Jogendra Nath Mandal. And he was nominated as the president of the first legislative assembly by Jinnah – the Quaid-e-Azam – himself. This is a country founded by the man who refused to disallow Ahmadis being given positions in All India Muslim League since he believed that any person proclaiming to be Muslim had the right to be accepted as a Muslim.
It’s a shame that we have come down to this level. Jinnah knew that the minorities of a country made its culture diversified and the people more tolerant. This is why he had declared in his August 11 speech that must have formed the pivot for the formation of this new state. “Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”, Jinnah had stated. And today, we have 5% representation and there is no reason why things would improve because the legislators have no reason to address the plight of the minorities in Pakistan.
The only way things can improve is by increasing the number of seats for the religious minorities in the parliament because that will force the political parties to look at the issues of the minorities with more sympathy and thorough consideration. It is obviously not one of the most pressing issues right now in the eyes of those who are in power but if we really want them to pay attention, the civil society, the lawyers, the students, newspapers, journalists and the general academia of Pakistan will have to build a narrative for the sake of saving the minorities of Pakistan from persecution. A rich culture is the one with most diversity. And the minorities are the diversity. We need to preserve them in order to preserve our culture, our strength and our position as a tolerant and progressive country among the comity of nations.