Once again, for the second consecutive week, I’m dragging you to ‘unimportant non-issues’ amidst a flood of ‘more relevant’ political developments. Please accept my apologies for being a continual distractor, even this week.
While I’m writing these lines, a lot has already happened. Tahirul Qadri and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf have announced their long marches with different names for their own versions of something called ‘inquilab.’ Inquilab is the Urdu word for ‘revolution,’ which is not just a post-apocalyptic TV serial. The context of Inquilab however, exposes itself differently to different political groups. For my left-leaning father-in-law and uncles, it is still a proletariat uprising as a result of meaningful class struggle.
For the youngsters in Pakistan however, it about getting rid of political faces they abhor. They have been led to believe by certain politicians that financial corruption is the root cause of all ills, and that it can be deracinated by changing faces at the helm. This will, to their way of thinking, automatically translate into better standards of living, absolute control on price hikes and multiple job opportunities readily available at the doorsteps of inquilab-seeking youth. The narrative however, is about the issues of the urban middle class, leaving out the rural youth as well as the urban proletariat.
Speech after speech, both leaders of this revisionist Inquilab, kept repeating the rhetoric about price hikes, corruption, the energy crisis and purported rigging in the 2013 general elections. Claiming to be most relevant to the people rather than mongering power like the ruling party, these leaders subjected us to long harangues and pressers, which the electronic media dutifully made sure to bombard us with. The entire week went on with these flowery speeches without any mention of religious minorities. Ethnic minorities are less fortunate to not get a place in the popular narrative, which remains Punjab-fixated, limited to the urban middle class and youngsters from the privileged classes.
One did finally hear three lines mentioned about minorities in the middle of the three hour diatribe of Mr. Qadri, leading his bearded Inquilab. It was packed in the portion of his speech delivered in the English language. One does not need lessons in communications strategy to know whom he was addressing while speaking in English. So much so, that all political parties, except the Pakistan Peoples Party, failed to issue even a one-liner statement till the filing of this piece on August 11, the officially designated National Minorities Day (NMD).
The statement by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari appeared in an Urdu newspaper with a headline irrelevant to the contents of the statement. The PPP’s statement on Minorities’ Day was headlined: Zardari supports the democratic system. Only two newspapers carried Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s statement on Minorities Day. I kept sending text messages to important leaders of all the political parties including the ruling party, to kindly say at least a few words about minorities on this day. I also sent messages to some TV anchorpersons to cover minorities’ issues in their prime time programs. I would have been surprised if even one program focused on this. There were none till the filing of this article.
Both the Houses of parliament were in session on August 11 and thankfully, the Speaker of the National Assembly saved the day and took it up in the house. August 11, by the way, marks the day in 1947 when Mr. Jinnah, (the founder of a country that was not an ‘Islamic Republic’ on the day of its founding) issued a land mark statement categorically saying the religious minorities would have equal rights in Pakistan and that the business of the state had nothing to do with an individual’s religion. The NMD was started by the previous coalition government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party in 2011, and has been commemorated every year in order to demonstrate the state’s commitment to the rights of religious minorities.
There were no seminars, no commemorating events, nothing in the city. Two different versions of an “Inquilab” had overwhelmed the sense of responsibility towards minorities. The euphoria for these two Inquilabs has also swept away with them the peculiar jubilations and celebratory environment associated with August the 14th, as Pakistan’s Independence Day. But let’s not go there. The minorities, let me reiterate and emphasize once again, have no place in both the inquilabs.
This runs through every institution, every group and every political party of this country. The token representation of minorities’ representatives in these institutions has become nothing more than fascinating eyewash. There are complex issues related to the voting rights of minorities especially of Ahmadis, who are not ready to be considered a religious minority but the state is adamant to deem them so. The Shias, while being a predominant part of the majority, have been reduced to a political minority. Even the Hindus and Christians do not get any place in important forums like reforms committees of the parliament. There’s no word about Kailash and Ismaili minorities, which are under threat due to forced conversions. No political party has a single line on Ahmadis. It is dangerous territory, after all. Who wants to die prematurely?
While at the people’s level, I can say with confidence that there is little discord. In all kinds of neighborhoods, Shias, Sunnis and Deobandis live peacefully. The peace however, is a whisper away from carnage. The state has undoubtedly been patronizing Deobandi extremist organizations, with undeniable linkages of the ruling party with these organizations. That probably explains why portions of our persecuted Shia community are standing with the bearded Inquilab of Mr. Qadri, a Barelvi cleric soft on Shiites. Who could blame them for that? The state and the ruling party have left little reason for them to see the PMLN stay in power.
Last year, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan disposed off a public interest petition under article 184(3) of the Constitution, taking note of violation of the rights of and violence against different minority communities. Let me bring to your attention what the SC Judgment called for.
The judgment asked the government to constitute a task-force to develop a strategy for religious tolerance, develop appropriate curricula to promote inter-faith harmony, to take steps to check hate speech against religious minorities, to constitute a National Council for Minorities’ Rights, a special Police Force to protect worship places of minorities, implement the 5% job quota for minorities and take strict action against the culprits of desecration of worship places alongside appropriate measures to avoid such incidents.
I, as a citizen of this country, want to ask the government where the compliance with this judicial order lies? My question to the parliament is, where is the oversight on government, to see if it complied with the court’s judgment? My question to both the inquilabs is, where are you questioning the state on all these counts the honorable court has pointed to? My question to the media is, where are your front-page headlines, the ‘Breaking News’ and the ‘tickers’ on the non-compliance of judicial orders?
I’d reproduce the words former Chief Justice had used in his judgment: “It is time for us as a nation and as individuals to have a moment of reflection, a moment of soul searching, and perhaps a moment of reckoning to ask ourselves; have we lived by the pledges made in the Constitution.”
Any ‘inquilab’ sans minorities should be unacceptable to every sane citizen of this country. Period.

 The writer is an Islamabad based freelance columnist.

marvi@marvisirmed.com

@marvisirmed