Until recently, the Christians and other non-Islamic religious groups and sects were indeed a silent minority of Pakistan, and they existed as people who were stereotyped and taken for granted by the mainstream majority, not to mention, belittled and ridiculed at every opportunity. It is a welcome sign that Human Rights Activists in Pakistan are now working to generate awareness on issues pertaining to these silent masses.
"The leading religion of Pakistan is Islam, which is the faith of about 97 percent of the people. About four-fifths of the Muslims are Sunni, and about one-fifth are Shia. Hinduism and Christianity form the leading minority religions; other religious groups include the Sikhs, the Parsees, and a small number of Buddhists. The constitution defines Pakistan as an Islamic Nation, but guarantees freedom of religion".
It is the final sentence that caught my attention and forms the basis of this article, i.e. the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. I believe this is a severe misrepresentation of the truth even though it is built into the Law of the land. The mere fact that no body is ever prosecuted for violating the sanctity of "other" religions leads me to conjecture that this vital piece of legislation is not worth the paper it is written on.
Laws in the civilized world are not only meant to act as resistance against socially unacceptable behaviour but also as a means of curbing-and-eliminating the very source of such attitudes. Law is only going to achieve the desired effect if it is enforced with as much vigour and enthusiasm as with which we called Salman Rushdie a blasphemer and condemned him to death. Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying that blasphemy does not warrant punishment, but that the majority who agrees to this punishment must at least consider it their duty to get the facts and understand the truth, rather than committing acts of violence without any comprehension. It is this focused herd-behaviour in condemning others for their religious belief, which makes me sad. It is for this reason that today intolerance amongst Pakistanis is at an all time high and is directed towards both Non-Muslims and fellow Muslims.
Minorities should be given their rights, or at least discrimination against them should be finished. Whoever lives in Pakistan legally has a right to be called first and foremost a Pakistani and then something else. An indisputable fact but far from reality. The average Pakistani is not concerned about the superiority of Sunni Vs Shia or Punjabi Vs Mohajir, all they are concerned about is how to provide the basic necessities of life to their loved ones, which simply means providing shelter and two square meals per day. It is the politicians and the right wing fundamentalists who try to provoke and instigate the people to assert superiority over one ethnic group or another religious group. Why? Because it serves their cumulative good to have their constituents in a state of turmoil, and moreover, it diverts attention from the real issues of economics, education, jobs, better health care and the lot. This same attitude is evident in dealing with Minorities. In general they are treated with great contempt. However, every now and then the politicians influence public sentiment by creating a pomp and show event, where with invited TV cameras and an orchestrated event they earn free exposure, often by presenting a minority with a sewing machine and some lip service. In the process somehow convincing themselves and others that they have been kind to the downtrodden people and hence free from further obligations for another year.
Most of us associate the Christians in Pakistan as being related to the cleaning profession. This is a fact, no matter how the "educated" amongst us deny it. In general we assume (tongue-in-cheek) that they are only capable of doing that particular job. Most of us also follow stereotypes, thus strengthening our prejudicial convictions about a religion, a race and its people. We refer to Christians as "chooras" (no offence intended for any Christian brother, as I am only trying to show the superficial contact we have with the Christians of our country). By not taking a stand against such name-calling we ourselves are the biggest chooras, racists and bigots, even the West pales off in our comparison. We make fun of their names, such as calling them "nee Margarate, ethon di safai neeio keeti, tun?" or make jokes about them Celebrating Christmas or going to church, or Allah-Forbid talking about mass or choir singing. And, in the process we prove how hypocritical is our society.
Why is it that if some people (read kafirs) in the west (U.K) complain that the Azaan-I-Fajr (call to prayer for morning) bothers them we get outraged and file lawsuits against the ignorant, racist Ungrez? And come up with such exclamations as "Oh God, the English are the most Intolerant people" But when a Maseeh (Christian) community member sings in a local choir in the handful of churches that they still have, we the official caretakers of political corrected-ness take it upon our shoulders to call it an outrage and call them all sorts of names.
Ironically one of the most famous Christian person we know is Tara Maseeh, the man who performed the final honours for the late Z. A. Bhutto in 1977! So you see we gave him the job to be an executioner because none of us wanted to be in blood and gore. It appears that the jobs we don't like, and find demeaning, get passed on to the Christian community. It is like they are at the bottom of the Pakistani food chain and get all the unwanted stuff handed down to them. At university, or college level, as far as I know, they don't get adequate representation, no seats are allocated to these poor souls and their children. How else are they to succeed in life if their very birthright, i.e. access to education is taken away from them? Could it be that it is a ploy on our part to not see them prosper or succeed?
If these determined people do succeed on account of their sheer hard work, we quickly discredit them by saying, "After all he will always remain a choora, So what that he drives a Toyota Corolla now, I remember when he used to walk 5 km every day to attend school". What we don't realise is that the individual has achieved something in life which most of us take for granted - the freedom and opportunity to succeed. All because we happen to be born in a country where religious freedom is guaranteed provided the religion we follow is Islam.
(Ghazal Bhatti is a Human Rights Activist in Pakistan)