By Nahir Javed
In his famous presidential address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 1947, Jinnah said “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state … you will find that in (the) course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
Unfortunately Jinnah’s words failed to penetrate into the social and political landscape of Pakistan; a country on the verge of becoming a theocratic state, where there is no room for religious minorities. We have allowed our society to be taken over by religious bigots and supremacists, creating space for the persecution of religious minorities, both legally and socially. It is a bitter, ironic truth that neither Hindus nor Christians are safe in the land of the pure. Over the years, many atrocities have been committed against them; many have been falsely accused of blasphemy and put to death and yet, the culprits are never held accountable for their actions. Not to mention the hundreds of Hindu and Christian women that are forcefully converted to Islam every year; a feat that has led to the exodus of Hindus from Sindh, who are forced to leave their homes and move into slums in India.
Under such dismal circumstances it is extremely important to restore confidence among the religious minorities of Pakistan. Between an acceptance of extremist opinion leaders in our media and society, and a rampant dislike for the principles of secularism, there is a little hope for Jinnah’s Pakistan.
However, the hope isn’t dead yet, and it recently manifested in an event held in Lahore on the 17th August to bolster the idea of a pluralistic and just society. The purpose of the event was to celebrate Raksha Bandhan and it was organized by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) in collaboration with the Hindu Sudhar Sabha. It was a perfect reflection of Jinnah’s Pakistan where Pakistanis of different religious backgrounds gathered and observed the festival of Raksha Bandhan with zeal and zest.
Raksha Bandhan, a traditional South Asian festival held during the war times, is a festival meant to strengthen the bond between brothers and sisters. Brothers vow to defend and help their sisters while sisters pray for the lifelong wellbeing of their brothers. The event was attended by the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Khalil Tahir Sindhu. Several other religious and political leaders also participated in the event.
The event comprised of many activities. It commenced with a welcome address by Saeeda Diep, the executive director of IPSS, who greeted the guests and voiced the concerns of the minorities of Pakistan. She also condemned the forceful conversion of Hindus girls in Sindh and acknowledged the presence of the media and its importance to the cause of interfaith harmony. The event came to life with a breathtaking performance by Miss Bakht Arif, who set the mood with a peace song, followed by a lively show by the Laal band. Meanwhile, the ceremony of Raksha Bandhan also took place and everyone participated with great fervor, regardless of their religious affiliations. Members of the Muslim community also signed a pledge to protect religious minorities.
Pakistan is a very diverse country that consists of people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, we need to celebrate diversity instead of eliminating it or brushing it under the carpet, and events like Raksha Bandhan provide a platform to do exactly that. Such events also play a vital role in delivering a level playing field for all beliefs and religions and helping people learn more about each other. Unfortunately, decades of religious fanaticism and unabashed patriotism have led Pakistani society to a constant decline and suffocation however; it’s time to change that.
It is time that we realize our obligation to protect religious and ethnic minorities so that the dream of Jinnah’s Pakistan can become a reality.
Nahir Javed is a student of Political Science at Forman Christian College. He is a minority and women’s rights activist and an advocate for secularism in Pakistan. He is currently working as an intern at the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies and blogs at liberalandsecularpakistan.