The tragic happenings of last week provide a glimpse into the malaise that infests Pakistan’s society and state. A young girl who could not get justice after being gang raped immolated herself in broad daylight under the prying eyes of TV cameras. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), the state’s body to oversee the Islamic-ness of the law, made a mockery of it and made two ridiculous recommendations. One, to repeal the provision of Pakistan’s Family Laws that make it incumbent upon the husband to seek the first wife’s permission before re-marrying. The other gross recommendation of CII was about allowing the under-age marriages of minor girls.

As if it was not enough, the state went overboard in dealing with a peaceful protest demonstration of female paramedical staff at Lahore. The nurses were asking to be regularized in their jobs. What a nonsensical demand it was, from a government too busy with more important issues like kneeling before the holy Taliban for piece negotiations. Spell check: peace I meant.

Not enough yet. Women had it from us but how could we forget religious minorities? That too the worst of them all; Hindus. After all, our ‘ideology’ calls for a complete social breakdown with them. We invoke blasphemy accusations, that handy tool for dealing with not only the minorities but anyone lacking enough weight in society.

It was holi celebrations in the offing over the weekend. Holi, the spring festival that symbolizes the victory of good over evil, is considered to be a festival of colors, celebrated with music, dance, laughter, forgiveness and repairing ruptured relationships. It signifies the South Asian way of celebrating life.

As the myth goes, the demon King Hiranyakashipu ordered everyone to worship him but his own son Prahlada instead worshipped Lord Vishnu. The King then asked his evil sister Holika, who was immune to fire, to sit on pyre with little Prahlada in her lap. As the divine intervention went, the pyre burnt Holika instead of Prahlada.

To symbolize this defeat of evil, every year Holika is burnt on the pyre on the night of the full moon during the Holi festival. Holika Dahan, as the tradition is called, was about to happen in Larkana last week when an enraged crowd appeared and set on fire to the Dharma Shala and the adjoining Mandir. The evil Holika, in this case, finally was able to burn the innocent Prahlada’s abode. Welcome to Pakistan.

The tragic incident followed an accusation of burning the pages of the Quran by a member of the local Hindu community. However unfounded these kinds of accusations may be, they normally lead to a similar turn of events: burning their homes or places of worship, and in the worst cases, the mass killings of minority members. These vigilante actions which always go unpunished and unaddressed by the state, have brought death and destruction upon the minority communities quite frequently in the past too. This, in fact has become an easy recourse to settling personal scores turned shrewdly into collective crime, so everyone goes scot-free.

Here we are not talking about the Islamic radical extremists or militants? This is a routine course of this society followed by ordinary citizens. The agent provocateurs in such cases may be miscreants, but the action is always completed with the active participation of the common man in the street.

For a long time I have been a strong holder of the view that we have a ‘Sufi Sindh’ and a ‘secular Balochistan’ as opposed to a ‘religiously inclined KP’ and ‘radical Punjab’. The first two labels now increasingly appear as myths. Even a couple of decades ago, what happened in Larkana this weekend, could not have been imagined in Sindh. However adamant our complacency may be, however strong our delusions may be, the fact remains that Sindh’s soul has been captured and Balochistan’s heart has been assaulted. So has been that of Pakistan.

Besides the debate of whether Jinnah was secular or a fundamentalist, one thing needs to be appreciated as a hard glaring fact. That is, the diverse ethnic make-up and plural cultural roots were and are central to the pulse of Pakistan. And that Pakistan is home to one of the most learned and ancient civilizations – the Indus Valley. We are home to the world’s first ever university founded around a thousand years BC, i.e., Takshashila. People indigenous to this country are known by historians to have pioneered the banking and accounting system centuries ago. Indeed, we are the world’s ancient seat of learning, culture and intellect. What happened to us?

The indigenous people of this proud civilization, the Hindus, may have turned into a ‘minority’ today, but they continue to contribute to the social and intellectual health of this country. Ever since their native land turned into the ‘Land of the Pure’, there has been no refuge for them from the perpetual persecution they have had to face. Their own progeny that sought to get ‘purer’ over the centuries, entangled itself in a vicious trap of identity, struggling with which it not only disassociated itself from, but also brutally cut every route that led to its original roots.

In theory, Pakistan’s Hindus enjoy all kinds of freedom to lead their life according to their beliefs. There is no bar on any community (save Ahmadis) in Pakistan to openly and freely observe their religious rites. It however, gets more complex than a simple statement of granting the rights of observing the religion freely in a state that adopts the majority’s religion to be its own, rendering all others as peripheral ones albeit with ‘equal rights’.

Desecration of ancient Hindu temples by Muslim rulers throughout history is routinely eulogized with pride in textbooks and the media. In addition to having an adverse psychological effect on Hindu students, this factor could be blamed for general apathy on frequent desecrations and demolitions of Hindu temples in Pakistan.

Whereas it is impossible to demolish a mosque to occupy the land it is built on, it is many times easier rather, in most cases kosher, to demolish the places of worship of other religious communities, especially if they belong to Hindus or Ahmadis. The ‘pagan’ status that Hindus enjoy in Pakistani textbooks for almost all levels, earns them this ‘special’ status where it is nearly impossible for an average child to have in their imagination any justification for the existence of religious symbols of Hindus in Pakistan, let alone respecting them.

To make things worse in Balochistan and Sindh, homes to the majority of Pakistani Hindus, a well-planned establishment of Madrassa networks was undertaken in late 1990s and early 2000s. This patronage of and pandering to extremist elements by the state has emboldened the radicals in the last few decades.

Never has any law-enforcing agency opened a blasphemy case against those who rampaged the temples. Never have any arrests been made for vigilante actions on minorities and women. Does the state even want to stop these atrocities on our minorities?

This war is ironically being waged on Pakistan by Pakistan itself. It remains to be seen who will ‘negotiate’ with whom to stop this war.

The writer is an Islamabad based campaigner for human rights and works on parliamentary strengthening and democratic governance.

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