Amidst th recent global outcry against the injustices faced by the black community for centuries, many nations have shown solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign and have systematically come together to demand an end to racism. It is truly a momentous occasion in history, one occurring simultaneously with another momentous occasion in history. Both have called on humanity to fight, but unlike the latter which discriminates on no basis of colour, ethnicity, religion or gender, the former is solely concentrated towards the exploitation and oppression of a particular race.

Like many others, Pakistanis too have shown their support for the lives of black individuals around the world. We have also called for an end to oppression, and the empathy we have shown as a united people is admirable. How true our endorsement, however, is another matter altogether. This is a matter I wish to bring our attention to. Discrimination exists the world over, whether it be in one form or another. Pakistan is no exception to this. While we may not have a history of overt oppression towards people of colour, we have time and time again, shown our intolerance, and have discriminated against people of different religions, ethnicities, and have blatantly refused gender equality.

That is not to say that all of us are guilty of such an act of bias, certainly not, but as it is a prevailing concern in a country where minorities live in fear and isolation, it is definitely something which the majority is guilty of. Let us first consider the issue of ethnicities. In Pakistan, there exist a number of different ethnicities, the most recognisable of which include the Punjabis, the Pashtuns, Sindhis, Saraikis, Mujahirs and Baloch. Among these ethnicities, there are further divisions of castes. Castes have long held great importance in matters of identity, with one caste often believing itself to be superior to another. These castes may clash on the basis of their identity and have traditionally chosen not to intermingle with one another. The baradari concept supersedes all other factors in matters such as those of marriage, business, and others. If one does not belong to either the same ethnicity or caste, all relations take on a forbidden nature and are often condemned.

Let us move to the issue of gender. In the patriarchal society in which we live, women are often not afforded the same opportunities as men. Some women are not even free to make the choices they wish to make, and there is an inherently problematic concept with a woman’s freedom being tied to a man’s wishes. They do not enjoy the same luxuries as men. Character assassinations are not uncommon. If a woman is not adhering to the typical societal standard imposed upon her, then she is to bear the displeasure of the majority. A man is mostly free from accountability, a woman is not. A positive trend is to be seen with a recognition of the transgender community and the respect afforded to them, but by large, both women and transgenders are nowhere granted the equal amount of respect and freedom which a man enjoys.

Finally, let us talk about religion. A rather sensitive topic in a country explicitly intolerant and unwilling to discuss matters of religion. Most Pakistanis identify as Muslims, yes, but Islam is not the only religion which exists within Pakistan. There are minorities of other religions such as Christianity and Hinduism. These minorities are often subject to violence and coercion. Forced conversions are an increasing trend within the country, with the Human Rights Council of Pakistan reporting around a thousand women forcibly being converted to Islam every year. In another report, around 23 percent of Pakistan’s population in 1947 belonged to religious minorities. That number has shrunk to a mere 4 percent in a recent study due to widespread discrimination. The ironic matter of the fact is that Islam is the very religion which champions tolerance and freedom for all individuals to do as they please.

Yes, I find it admirable that our people have stood with the black community in their calls for justice. The matter I wish to stress, is that if we are truly capable of such empathy, and if we truly believe in equality, then why do we not extend it to our own people? In supporting such a movement, we are reaching out to the humanity of individuals, and humanity supersedes all identities. Humanity comes first. It is the only basis upon which people should be judged. So if you truly believe in such a movement, then practice this belief in your society, let go of your prejudices, empower your minorities, and let people be free to live the lives they wish to, regardless of their ethnicity, their gender, or their religion.

Shahmir Khan Ghani

The writer is a storyteller and freelance columnist.