People have multiple identities: race, gender, ethnicity, political beliefs, profession, language, religion, tribes and sub-tribes etc. To reduce a person to a mere member of one particular identity group is denial of freedom for that person to be. The quest of the state for transcendent identity to preserve unity, discarding multiple identities, has paradoxically placed, each Pakistani in an insecure minority. No one here belongs.

Pakistan today is the sixth most populated and one of the least religiously diverse countries in the world. According to the Pew Research Centre Pakistan’s population comprises: 96.4% Muslims, 1.6% Christians and 1.9% Hindus. These statistics have a strong connect with our ideological spin on freedom struggle. We are instructed that in the united India; a parliamentary democracy, statistically dominated by Hindu majority would have discriminated against and marginalised the numerical minority; Muslims. The state cultivated a popular narrative imbued in political Islam that was both divisive and isolationist. It came at a cost. The space ominously shrunk for other ungodly religions.

At the time of partition, the population of Hindus in the area now called Pakistan was as significantly higher. Their number would drop over the years. As Hindus continued to migrate and sought refuge elsewhere (including India) we desperately clung to our ideology. If recent trends of puritan drives in the rural Sindh are any indicator, we might succeed in cleansing our land from Hindu infidels all together. The Jews too had a thriving community in Karachi until the 1960s. Then again in the land of pure, Jewish exodus nonetheless delayed but was inevitable. It offers little comfort if Christians constitute 1.6% of the population or 13% as claimed by the community—we know better. Christians don’t particularly enjoy state paternalism. Ironically the founding father did not trust Congress to safeguard the constitutional freedoms of the minorities in united India—a solemn reminder!

The Charter of Medina declared all the ten thousand citizens in the heterogeneous city-state of Medina including Muslims, Jews and non-Muslim Arabs as one Ummah. Clause 25 of the Charter stated that the Jews are a community in alliance with or forming part of the believers. Sadly, we have shelved this detail, as it does not quite accord with popular narrative pushed in the land of pure. Another solemn reminder!

The obsession with majoritarianism has now taken a nasty turn: the state must rid itself of all banal impurities and that includes all kinds of minorities (their ambit grows every passing day). The exclusionary gloss of the Pakistani make-up is not confined to religious minorities anymore. Remember with 80% of the Muslim population as Sunnis; Pakistan is also home to the second largest Shia population in the world that forms 19% of the Muslim population. And the state has lately condoned unprecedented acts of malice against the Shia. In the words of late Gabriel García Márquez “normality was precisely the most fearful part of that infinite war: nothing ever happened”. What next? All Sunnis, for instance, in Pakistan, do not subscribe to deobandism. Its manifest expansion from a mere madrasah based in Uttar Pradesh to ideological breeding ground for young recruits in Pakistan after independence is a story that needs due attention— but I digress. Evidently we have yet to discover horrifying vacuity of our delusional fantasies: A client state striving for united nation on exclusionary ethos can never achieve unity.

Betrayed by false within, we have given room to all kinds of lunatic beliefs in the national discourse. It has compounded the prevalent uncertainty, which only makes it easier to embrace fanaticism in different forms. The youth today may identify themselves as Muslims first due to the state conditioning; yet they can never disassociate from their plural identities (some predating the birth of country). Even the best of efforts by the state would fall short of suppressing those identities.

The state must open up and adopt an integrative approach embracing pluralism. The recognition of each person’s multiple identities, of which religion is only one, is long overdue. We must shun practises that instigate societal discontent grounded in otherisation. Both democratic institutions and media can play an active part in promoting diversity in the society. It’s high time we reflected on our communal orientation since independence. Religion alone could not prevent the fall of Dhaka nor can it aid in achieving a united country today.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.