Christmas musings. By Ardeshir Cowasjee


MOHAMMAD ALI JINNAH came, made a country to suit the genius of his brethren, and died. He told the men who would govern his country that religion would not be the business of the state, that the state would not be ruled by priests with a divine mission. He was clear on this.
He was also clear enough to decree that his official birthday would be commemorated on the day when the world at large joyfully celebrates the birth anniversary of Jesus of Nazareth, the Second in Trinity, and this continues. We wish and hope, though it is extremely difficult to do so, that his soul rests in peace.
Now for the usual Sunday whinge and whine : Rather than getting better and better day by day, year by year, this republic of ours seems to be slipping fast in the wrong direction. Strange things are happening, of which we were previously unaware â€" they may well have been with us for decades, since the rule of religiosity in the 1980s, but now the press, thanks to President General Pervez Musharraf, has become freer than ever before, and thus bolder, and it does its best to tell it as it is.
In the immortal words of Robert Lowe, editorial writer for The Times (London) in 1851 :
“The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation. The statesman collects his information secretly and by secret means; he keeps back even the current intelligence of the day with ludicrous precautions.
“The press lives by disclosures For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences â€" to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice or oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world.”
The judgment of the world â€" on that front we do not do well. The judgment is against us, it is harsh, and it is justified.
There happened this month an event which was classified by none other than the chairman of our Higher Education Commission, the learned Professor Doctor Atta-ur-Rahman : “It is such obnoxious behaviour that has led to the downslide of this nation in ethics.”
What was the obnoxious behaviour? Why, mere discrimination, which is constitutionally institutionalized in Pakistan, the much amended constitution making it mandatory that the minorities of this country should not be treated on an equal footing with the larger, much larger, majority (which within itself also discriminates violently and fatally at times between its numerous sects).
This year a young Christian girl from Gujranwalla did well and obtained 878 out of 1,100 marks in her intermediate examinations. Wishing to study medicine, she applied for admission to the MBBS course at that most upright institution of Lahore, the King Edward Medical College, which in days of yore has turned out many a fine man of healing. Qandeel Sultan, the young Christian, obtained 77.97 per cent in the final selection merit and rightly should have been admitted. She was not.
A Muslim student who had obtained lesser marks than she overtook her as he was awarded 20 additional marks on the ground that he is a Hafiz-e-Quran (this apparently is the institutionalized practice). Qandeel, obviously wronged as she is excluded from being able to take advantage of the 20 point bonus, did the unexpected. As an aggrieved minority member she went to court and filed a writ petition (18634/05) in the Lahore High Court which was admitted on November 28. The matter has been fully covered in the press and we all await the decision of the honourable court. We all think we can guess what it will be.
Now, thankfully, we have as the HEC Chairman Atta-ur-Rahman, and we must be grateful that it is not a ‘competent’ retired or serving army general who occupies this slot. Atta has written and promised to investigate and advise the KEMC that it should base its admission policy strictly on merit, without consideration of race or religion. This is how it should be. And, if the college does not toe the line, it gets no further development funding. Good. The lion has roared â€" even though he be toothless. Sadly, we have no authority (other than the president of the Republic) who is capable of issuing the order : ‘Admit the girl, see that she loses no time. The fluff can be sorted out later.’
Karachi this coming week has a bit of luck. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will not descend upon us to cause the usual havoc, and make a thorough nuisance of himself, bringing down upon his head much justified vituperation. The general also will spare Karachi (as far as we know) and concentrate on making himself popular in Sindh. We wish them both a merry festive season.(DAWN)

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