The state of Pakistan was once and ideal, of peace and utopia. “You are free,” said Muhammad Ali Jinnah, “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed”. But may we really? It is his day, today. Would he not be disappointed in us? The European Organisation of Pakistani Minorities, an independent human-rights organisation, reported this year a catalogue of incidents of violence against minorities in the last six months—including rape, murder, forced conversions, abductions and the torching of holy books and temples. These had affected up to 150 Shias, 23 Hazaras, 45 Hindus, 21 Sikhs, 66 Christians, 22 Ahmadis and 13 others, with banned militants and private citizens both to blame. These developments have resulted in a massive exodus of members of Pakistani minorities to other countries, such as the United States, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, India and Israel. The government needs to tackle this as a priority or we will continue to face global embarrassment. Article 25 of the constitution emphasises equality of rights: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.” Article 25 has to turn into a reality.

Pakistan, as it exists ideologically, is facing a crisis of existence, and not putting up a fight to survive. A country based on hatred of other religions that do not see eye to eye with Deobandi and Salafi schools of thought will never allow its people to live as citizens; what to talk of citizens having equal rights. Sunni radicals and their sympathizers can be found in the police, judiciary and government. Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis are routinely and disproportionately accused of blaspheming. Pakistan is home to some 2,000 Hindu temples that are at least a century old. The operative word here is “home”. We have not been able to provide a safe home for so many of our citizens. Pakistan did not always exist, it was a decision, a choice. And every man, woman and child who chose to remain here after 1947, also made a choice. Would they regret it if they knew what happened to their grandchildren and great grand children?

This Christmas, we are a nation in mourning and we must remember every life that we have lost. Every Christian murdered, every child dead, every family in anguish. Each one of us is a candle, flickering at a vigil called Pakistan. How long can we live before more of us are burnt out with hate? We hope to have a peaceful and happy Christmas day, and pray that we keep our promises to be better citizens, more united against militancy, more vocal against religious discrimination.