Before Liberating Kashmir, Try Standing Up For Your Own Minorities
It is hypocritical to act as a human rights defender for the oppressed people of Kashmir, Palestine and Myanmar while remaining tight-lipped over persecution of religious minorities taking place in your own country, writes Ailia Zehra.
As Pakistan marks National Minorities Day today, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the extent to which the state has failed to protect minority communities. August 11 was declared Minorities Day by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in 2009 after untiring efforts of former Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who wanted the nation to remember Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s 11 August 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly in which he made it clear that one’s religion, caste or creed has nothing to do with the business of the state.
But the minister tragically became victim of the anti-minority violence himself.
Bhatti was assassinated in 2010 for extending support to blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi who was sentenced to death over false allegations of blasphemy. Former Punjab governor Salman Taseer met the same fate for his statements seeking an end to the misuse of blasphemy law in the wake of the Aasia Bibi case.
Ten years later, the state of affairs is hardly any different. Not too long ago, bearded hooligans of religious extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) wreaked havoc on the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and many other cities to protest Supreme Court (SC) verdict absolving Aasia Bibi of blasphemy charges. Government remained unmoved as the rioters were baying for the blood of members of the Christian community.
The blatant hate speech against religious minorities went unnoticed and the government cut a deal with the protesting leaders, assuring them that Aasia Bibi would not be allowed to leave the country before a review appeal is filed in the apex court against her release. This despite the fact that the country’s highest court had already stated that no blasphemy had been committed, and that Aasia was wronged for eight years over a crime she had not committed.
Aasia Bibi finally managed to leave the country six months after her acquittal, but we failed her. We have been failing our minority citizens for far too long.
It was only after TLP’s protesting clerics crossed a red line and threatened army generals that the state came into action and began a crackdown against them. Khadim Rizvi, the firebrand cleric of the TLP, who was arrested weeks after the riots in December last year was recently released. But he has not been delivering his venomous speeches lately, which suggests that he must have been given a message by the state that his shenanigans can no longer be tolerated.
This means when the state decides to right a wrong, no violent group can continue its impunity. The government must take a decision about the fate of all such extremist groups that seek to divide Pakistanis on basis of their religious or sectarian identities.
While the long overdue crackdown against Khadim Rizvi’s outfit was encouraging, the state could not build an effective legal strategy to ensure Rizvi’s conviction. An adequate punishment for Khadim Rizvi could have set a precedent against the practice of creating unrest in the name of religion – something successive governments have failed to tackle.
The discourse put forth by such divisive elements often ends up having disastrous consequences. The cold-blooded murder of a professor at a Bahawalpur college in March at the hands of his young student for organizing a non-segregated party is one of the many examples of bigotry resulting in violence.
Mob justice against religious minorities over allegations of blasphemy is also a norm in Pakistan. We need to ask ourselves why the anti-minority violence in Pakistan fails to generate the level of outrage that is currently being witnessed against atrocities in Indian-Occupied Kashmir.
It is hypocritical to act as a human rights defender for the oppressed people of Kashmir, Palestine and Myanmar while remaining tight-lipped over persecution of religious minorities taking place in your own country. Many of those who are rightly speaking out against India’s atrocities in Kashmir don’t bat an eye when Shias, Christians and Ahmadis are targeted and killed for their faith in Pakistan. It is about time such individuals are called out for their hypocrisy.
Before claiming your right to Kashmir, protect the minorities of your own country from the vicious cycle of violence and discrimination.