By Ayesha Ramzan
As the space for the marginalized and oppressed minorities continues to shrink and those voicing their concerns are being silenced with rising disappearances. The five missing Pakistani activists had one thing in common: a satire on growing religious intolerance.
Their active online advocacy for the cause of marginalized people often meant more than merely challenging the status quo, and this of course cost them dearly. In this blog, I will also dare-apparently not having learnt a lesson- like these ‘missing persons’, to raise voice for the most vulnerable and persecuted by both the state and public in the name of religion, norms and laws.
There can be no second opinion that those born into a Muslim family cannot be more grateful for the ‘lottery’ they have won, and subsequently, the share of prerogatives and privileges they will enjoy. Once named as a Muslim –the ‘pious’ sounding Muslim names- the child will never strike as odd or be meted with curious glances in a typical Pakistani school environment- Jai, Kapil, Masih, John strike as awkward if not totally strange.
Further, one is saved from the embarrassment of reading and listening to the definition of a Kafir in the primary classes; later in life, one is oblivious to the threats as incurring any blasphemy or the fear of being provided with poisonous moonshine and only to be later held responsible for enjoying the Christmas celebration.
But to put it more honestly, marginalization does not happen only when you are a Pakistani Christian or Hindu. Who are the marginalized? Or rather to put it correctly, on what level do we not marginalize? Starting from the Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, the charge is laid on being born a Parsi, or belonging to Hazara Shia community and of course, the Ahmadis- rather anyone- who deviates from the defined categories of Pure breed Sunni Muslim, the only one qualified as ‘humans’, and the others are put on a radar throughout their lives in the land of Pure by both the public and the state.
The irony lies that the minorities are marginalized further as they are termed as ‘minorities’ and being talked about continuously as pariahs by those in the majority group, and the ‘few’ who dare to voice their anger against bigotry are made to disappear! Thus, the usual norm for the minorities, too, is: to remain low key, submerged and peripheral just for mere survival. Socio-economic status denies them of voicing their concerns; social norms endanger their living.
Also, there is a flip side to the coin, a way, whereby those among the majority redeem themselves, reminding each other they have no part in incurring this division. However, the closer one looks at the everyday life affairs, the most shocking and revealing it is: we, the majority, are not innocent in our contribution to this hatred. Every time we sign on a document, as important as a passport application requiring assent to the definition of a Muslim as ‘the one believing in the finality of the prophet ‘, we do accept such a position; each time we chide our children not to be friends with the ‘other’ Christian or Hindu children, we are in alliance with the positioning of such binaries; each time we overlook Facebook posts in favor of discriminating laws, we adhere to the social norms of treating Muslims and Non- Muslims differently.
If nothing else, we just need to wake up to the fact that without the contribution of the minorities, the progress of society at any level is impossible. Also, Just the mere understanding that in this society where prejudices and stereotypes trigger hatred and fear, a sense of duty and responsibility towards other humans must bind us together, if nothing else.
Quoting Jinnah’s speech of 11th August 1947 to the Constituent Assembly “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.
The dream of the founder who envisioned a pluralist Pakistan remains far from realization while we are unable to amend or abolish laws as unfair and brutal as those inciting discrimination amongst religious minorities, it remains unrealized and impossible while the society impedes the growth of all those dubbed as the ‘others’ – the not so ‘sui generis’ Muslims.
There is still hope, for one thing, that cannot be taken away is the human tendency, or even ‘ folly’ to keep hoping for better times when tolerance and justice would reign instead of fear plaguing those marginalized and the ones raising their voices for those on the peripheries.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are her own.
About Author: Ayesha Ramzan is a lecturer in the department of Humanities, COMSATS (CIIT). She teaches Translation Studies and Communication Skills to graduate and under-graduate students. Also, she prides herself in being called a literature geek, a staunch feminist with an unending passion for learning.