Lessons from Gojra Tragedy: By Mumtaz Shah


The Gojra Tragedy is another shameful incidence of religious intolerance and violence in Pakistan. This is not the first time that the majority class has physically expressed their aggression against minority groups in this country. The history of Pakistan is replete with incidents of Shia-Sunni clashes and oppression of weaker, peaceful minority groups such as Christians, Qadianis, Hindus and Sikhs by the Majority Muslims.
In almost all these cases of oppression and violence the minority classes were accused of blaspheming against Islam and in almost all the cases the evidence of blasphemy could not be proved.
Pakistan claims itself the fortress of Islam and a country that follows democratic norms. The religious scholars claim that Islam is a religion of “tolerance and peace”. I certainly agree that this claim is true, but then I am also unable to understand why all hell let loose on peaceful and handful of minorities which are the bon-a-fide citizens of this country since the very birth of this land whose founder very categorically said that all the people of the country are equal citizens irrespective of religious affiliations.
Although the constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights and opportunities for all the citizens of the country and it guarantees peace and security for all the citizens, in practice it has never been implemented. Although we claim that we are a democratic country, we cannot deny the fact that the moment we call ourselves “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” the concept of democracy dies there and then for all those who do not conform to the tenets of Islam. Democracy cannot practice when the government is based upon religion. The moment we say Islam is the State’s religion the process of discrimination starts. That is what is happening in Pakistan ever since its birth as a state. Every application form requires the applicant to declare his/her religion. Every Pakistani passport must state the religion of the passport holder. Therefore the claim of equal rights to all citizens is a hoax and not a reality.
Whatever measures the government adopts to provide safety and security to the citizens belonging to minority sects they are unlikely to have any curative effect on the mentality of the people unless the psyche of the whole nation is changed. The overall psyche of the people of Pakistan will change only when the overall educational system is overhauled and brought up on the lines of the system followed by the secular societies of the world. We have forced religion in everything that a student is required to do. Take any book prescribed in the educational curriculum, be it of social studies, Urdu and English languages and literature or sciences and now even in the books of Psychology you will find that religion is an important part of the text. Religion (Islam) and Pakistan have been made conditioned with one another. Our educational books when giving the background of the development of Pakistan movement and the birth of Pakistan are based upon the element of “hatred” between Hindus and Muslims. How can we allow “hatred” to be taught in schools polluting the minds of innocent students who are going to be future members of the international community? Have we ever thought what are the reactions and feelings of those students and their parents who are non-Muslims? Our education system is completely soaked with religious colour for one single group of people, i.e. Muslims and Muslims only. Under such circumstances, how can we claim ourselves to be a nation at par with international community?
The world educational systems are fast turning towards secular, liberal systems free from any religious orientation. The Ten Commandments have been removed from the Supreme Courts of the USA. The Lord’s Prayer is no more a part of the morning assembly in the schools in US, Canada and several other Western educational institutions. The Western educational systems are becoming secular to be acceptable to a student of any creed or class. That is what education is and should be. Anything other than this is not education but propaganda.
In our society, religion is an essential and important part of the state. It is an undeniable fact that the religion of the State of Pakistan is Islam. That is why it is enforced through the edicts of the country’s laws. Over here religion, instead of being a personal or private matter, is considered a public matter of prime importance. The laws of the state must ensure that everybody adheres to the tenets of religion. In a few days time the whole nation is going to go through 30 days of fasting in the month of Ramadhan. Anyone found eating or drinking during the daytime in Ramadhan will be punishable by law. No restaurants are allowed to open and cater even for those people who do not fast. Have we ever thought “what are the rights of those citizens of the country who are non-Muslims” or who do not want to keep fast? They will also have to go hungry and thirsty when out of the house in the city for any important errand. I personally went through such crisis once when I visited another city during Ramadhan. I had no place where I could go to eat and drink. I was almost sick and about to faint with dehydration and physical weakness. The situation forced me to think: “what are my rights as a citizen of Pakistan”? Why was I forced to suffer? Was it just because I am a member of minority, non-Muslim, liberal or progressive group?
The bottom-line is that our educational system needs revolutionary changes. The US society broke the chains of colour prejudice through liberalizing and secularizing their education. So did all the Western societies. Unless we come out of these prejudices and make the minorities feel that they are equal and rightful citizens of our country, we shall not be able to stop these acts of sectarian violence. Unless we make the education of our country acceptable to all the citizens irrespective of faith and creed, unless we bring about changes which prove that our education is education and not propaganda in support of one religious class we shall not be able to inculcate the atmosphere of love and affinity between the people of different faiths and creeds. If we do not make our country a secular state the minorities will always remain minorities and the heinous acts of violence, arson and killings will continue.

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