Pak­istan and the de­hu­man­i­sa­tion of mi­nori­ties

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Ish­tiaq Ahmed

How do we ex­plain that de­spite sev­eral Sufi shrines be­ing tar­geted by sui­cide bombers, the Ahle Sun­nat ulema are de­mand­ing that Aa­sia Bibi should be ex­e­cuted? How can the Ahle Sun­nat ig­nore that fact that they them­selves are on the hit list of ex­trem­ists who con­sider them guilty of crimes no less se­ri­ous than blas­phemy?

Pro­fes­sor Brij Narain was a fa­mous La­hore-born aca­demic whose books on eco­nom­ics were on the re­quired read­ing list of the cur­ric­ula of pre-par­ti­tion uni­ver­si­ties. En­am­oured by Jin­nah's English life­style and man­ner­ism and him­self strongly sec­u­lar and ide­al­is­tic, Brij Narain un­der­es­ti­mated the mor­bid im­pact of the ra­bidly anti-Hindu and anti-Sikh rhetoric of the 1945-46 elec­tion cam­paign in Pun­jab. He de­vel­oped a strong set of ar­gu­ments to prove that Pak­istan was eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble and vi­able. When par­ti­tion took place in mid-Au­gust 1947 and La­hore was burn­ing, he con­tin­ued to be­lieve that Hin­dus like him could be Pak­ista­nis like any other com­mu­nity. A mob ar­rived at his door and mer­ci­lessly killed him not­with­stand­ing his pleas that he sup­ported Pak­istan.

Miss Ralia Ram was a La­hore­born Chris­tian lady who wrote let­ter af­ter let­ter to Quaid-e-Azam warn­ing him about Congress machi­na­tions. She too be­lieved in the right­eous­ness of Pak­istan. Her letters are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble in the sev­eral vol­umes of the Jin­nah Pa­pers. For­tu­nately in 1947, Chris­tians were not a tar­get group. Many Hin­dus and Mus­lims saved their lives by fak­ing a Chris­tian iden­tity. Both in Am­rit­sar and in Ka­sur thou­sands of Mus­lim refugees re­ceived med­i­cal aid from Chris­tian vol­un­teers. Even more in­ter­est­ing is the fact that the ma­jor­ity of Pun­jabi Chris­tians sup­ported the Mus­lim League's case for Pak­istan be­fore the Pun­jab Bound­ary Com­mis­sion. Their leader, S P Singha, ar­gued that the Chris­tians would rather have a united Pun­jab, but if Pun­jab were to be di­vided they could ex­pect bet­ter treat­ment in Pak­istan than in caste-rid­den In­dia. The leader of the An­glo-In­di­ans Mr Gib­bon in­formed the Pun­jab Bound­ary Com­mis­sion that the An­glo-In­di­ans were happy to be in Pak­istan. They re­garded La­hore and West Pun­jab as their home­land.

I have al­ready men­tioned in an ear­lier op-ed that the lead­er­ship of the Ahmediyya com­mu­nity was deeply wor­ried about per­se­cu­tion in a sec­tar­ian Pak­istan. How­ever, just be­fore the par­ti­tion of In­dia it was de­cided to sup­port the Pak­istan move­ment (Mu­nir Re­port 1954: 196-7). There­after the Ahmedis put all their ef­forts be­hind the Mus­lim League's cam­paign. Sir Muham­mad Za­farul­lah Khan, a lead­ing mem­ber of the Ahmediyya com­mu­nity, pre­sented the Mus­lim League case be­fore the Pun­jab Bound­ary Com­mis­sion with ster­ling com­pe­tence. The coun­sel for the Congress Party, Mr Setalvad, could not re­strain him­self from pub­licly pay­ing com­pli­ments to Za­farul­lah dur­ing the pro­ceed­ings. In 1947, the Ahmedis were still in­cluded in govern­ment statis­tics among Mus­lims, and that alone had in­flated the Mus­lim per­cent­age of the Gur­daspur district to a bare ma­jor­ity of 51 per­cent.

All such sto­ries sound un­real in the light of the Pak­istan ex­pe­ri­ence. The Hin­dus were nat­u­rally the first to flee from Pak­istan. The next to exit were the An­glo-In­di­ans. The Ahmedis started seek­ing refuge in the west in the 1980s. Only in Sindh a Hindu mi­nor­ity sur­vived while in the rest of Pak­istan mostly the poor­est Chris­tians stayed put be­cause they had nowhere to go.

Ridi­cul­ing Sikhs as sim­ple­tons is a prej­u­dice that still sur­vives in Pak­istani Pun­jab, but their lead­ers proved to be the most far­sighted in an­tic­i­pat­ing the type of Pak­istan that would emerge. In the sec­ond half of May 1947, the Sikh lead­ers met Jin­nah in Delhi. Jin­nah and Li­aquat had come fully pre­pared to con­vince them to sup­port the Pak­istan de­mand. They told the Sikhs to write down what­ever they wanted and it would be granted. The charm of­fen­sive, how­ever, was too late in the day. Ear­lier, in March 1947, Sikh vil­lages in the Rawalpindi, At­tock and Jhelum dis­tricts had borne the brunt of mob attacks at the hands of Mus­lims. At least 2,000 Sikhs lost their lives.

No Mus­lim League leader, in­clud­ing Jin­nah, is­sued a pub­lic state­ment con­demn­ing those attacks. I have looked in vain in the two main English-lan­guage news­pa­pers of prepar­ti­tion Pun­jab, the Tribune and The Pak­istan Times as well as in the Jin­nah Pa­pers for any ev­i­dence of the con­dem­na­tion of that ou­trage. In the event, Hardit Sikh Ma­lik, who acted as the spokesper­son for the Sikhs told Jin­nah that they could not risk their fu­ture on his prom­ises; the day he is gone things would change. He was right. I have al­ways held the view that the anti-mi­nor­ity stance took birth at the time of the 1945-46-elec­tion cam­paign in the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity prov­inces of north-western In­dia. Once it was born, it as­sumed a life of its own. Only some­one to­tally naive can be­lieve that Jin­nah's Au­gust 11, 1947 speech was a magic mantra that could suf­fice to make it van­ish.

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