Happy Christmas and Quaid e Azam day to you all! It’s always been a pleasing coincidence that the founder of the nation and the founder of a religion should be celebrated on the same day. Hopefully there will be a time when we will, other than commemorating his birth, be able to honour Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s words on everyone being free to go to their temples, churches and mosques; that the white in our flag represents people who are equal to the green ones in a country that affords everyone dignity. For a country founded on othering an entire nation—us against them, Muslims against Hindus, it is a slippery and frightening slope. Who are we, if not united in our distaste? What brings us together, gives us a common cause, if not religion? When one has to think about the non-Muslims who are every inch as Pakistani as we are, then we open the door to thoughts that unsettle us because they force us to consider what it means to be Pakistani outside the convenient parenthesis of faith.
Why should we be a nation united in discrimination? Surely we can have common ground based on civic duty and a shared commitment to the progress and prosperity of our nation? The inclusiveness we cherish and envy in countries we travel to and study in is not a standard that applies only to them. If we like the fact that one can live in the United States or Great Britain or Canada without being constantly labelled and derided then what makes us think that Pakistanis in our own country do not deserve the same dignity?
Is it a class thing? One wonders. If we cannot connect, on a human level, with people outside our social and economic class then we tend to view those people as less-than. Less than everything, really Less deserving of proper schooling, less deserving of state resources, medical attention, our respect A study showed that patients of colour in some American hospitals were given less painkillers than white patients, because of an underlying bias that people of colour “felt less pain”, or were “more used to it” and so healthcare providers (can’t really call them professionals in this case) didn’t medicate them as much. The same logic applies every time a less privileged patient is under-medicated in a hospital here, or not given the same protocol a privileged patient would (and no doubt does) receive. When we are treated fairly and respectfully in foreign countries, it is not because they know we are special upper-middle class people with contacts and a driver and a certain social circle. It is because these countries have a civic code that promotes inclusivity and equality, and that means affording everyone dignity and respect.
So, in the spirit of Quaid-e-Azam Day, and also in the spirit of Jesus, who by all accounts, most especially our own religious one was a gentle and generous man, how do we become better at being Pakistanis? Seems like the answer is to start being better people. The Quaid was also a notoriously fair-minded man, and had excellent ideas about the role of unity, discipline, faith (faith, not one specific way of believing, but just…having it) and women in the grand scheme of the success of Pakistan. His vision for Pakistan was, to my mind, was a place of sanctuary. A safe place where people could go to be part of a brave new world, one where everyone was committed to the justice they didn’t seem to have in the old one. And like truth, and beauty and love, justice too is for everyone—not just the people who happen to be on the “right” side of the fence. Pakistan was supposed to be that side of the fence where everyone, regardless of caste or creed, was welcome and most of all, free. If our minorities are not free, if they do not feel safe, if they are indeed and in fact not safe then we have a massive problem that we cannot take another seventy years to address.
This column closes with words that the internet says are from the Quaid’s pen, but regardless of provenance are moving and profound—particularly today.
“We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting at this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State”.
Why should we be a nation united in discrimination? Surely we can have common ground based on civic duty and a shared commitment to the progress and prosperity of our nation?