VIEWS: Daunting Religious Bigotry and Elections 2013 —Fakiha Hassan Rizvi
As Pakistanis are heading towards the next general elections, political parties and civil society should be cognizant of the fact that minorities can steer the electoral results in 2013
Barely did the human heart survive the inhumane spectacles of Shi’ite genocide in Balochistan that flames emerged from Joseph Colony, Lahore. As many as 180 houses belonging to the Christian minority were set ablaze. What reportedly started as a verbal onslaught between two drunkards wearing tags of different religions turned into a perdition devouring properties of Christians. This time neither the law enforcement agencies nor the religious zealots can hide under the legal cover of ‘Blasphemy laws’. There was not any Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) spewing out hate by torching houses of Christians. The attack did not materialise by a suicide bomber near a church. Blasphemy has been one of the reasons for this blatant bigotry in the name of religion, but the blurring of line between blasphemy and legal protection of citizens under the state has further complicated the already incomprehensible treatment of the minority sects or religions in Pakistan. This can be a strong reason for marginalised religious groups to deny their support for mainstream popular political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
While most of the people mark the ‘constitutional marginalisation’ of minorities in Pakistan along with General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation policy, history reveals that the problem existed earlier as well. On March 12, 1949, the then prime minister of Pakistan, Liaqat Ali Khan, while wrapping up the debate on the Motions of Objectives Resolution reassured the non-Muslims by stating, “We are guaranteeing you your religious freedom, advancement of your culture, sanctity of your personal laws, and equal opportunities as well as equality in the eye of law… we are determined to do the right thing for you for the simple reason that our religion tells us to do so; for the simple reason that we are trying to build up a state on morality and on higher values of life than what materialism can provide.” After this speech, the amendments proposed by non-Muslims for the Objectives Resolution were put to vote and were rejected as 21 members (all Muslims) of the Constituent Assembly voted against them and 10 voted (all non-Muslims) in their favour. It was that day when communal differences started to widen and the gap was never filled by anyone; it kept on fuelling hate, suspicion, isolation among the minorities against the majority.
General Ziaul Haq atoned for the gap that was left to further aggravate the antagonism between the religious majority and minorities in Pakistan. The politically motivated Islamisation process curbed much of the religious freedom and pluralistic sense that was essential to bind together a multi-ethnic state like Pakistan. Zia favoured certain sects over others. Thus, the introduction of Ushr, Zakat and other Islamic taxes caused considerable uproar from the minorities. The dictator, firm-fisted and stubborn, censured media outlets at that time. Many cases of atrocities against the minority religions and sects must have remained unnoticed. This steam of intolerance was building pressure since long. General Zia did not avoid creating political separatism due to his indifference towards the minorities. An amendment (Clause 4 A) was added into the Article 51 of the Constitution, which called for ‘separate electorates’. Through Presidential Order No Eight of 1984, the law on separate electorates and communal representation was further elaborated: ‘At an election to a Muslim seat or a non-Muslim seat in the National or a Provincial Assembly, only such persons shall be entitled to vote in a constituency as are enrolled on the electoral roll prepared in accordance with law on the principles of separate electorate for any electoral seat in that area.’ This segregation in politics on religious basis has suffused into the socio-economic lives of Pakistanis as well. It has yielded a sense of abandonment in the subordinate factions. The vengeful vibes of this marginalisation can surface in the upcoming general elections although there will be a joint electorate.
As Pakistanis are heading towards the next general elections, political parties and civil society should be cognizant of the fact that minorities can steer the electoral results in 2013. There are 2.77 million non-Muslim voters in the country, and 13 districts in Sindh and two in Punjab host majority of these voters. Among 2.77 million non-Muslim voters, 1.40 million are Hindus, 1.23 million Christians, 115,966 Ahmadis, 5,934 Sikhs, 3,650 Parsis, 1,452 Buddhists and 809 Jews. With parties like the Pakistan Christian Movement already getting the most sought electoral symbol of ‘Sun’, it is likely that Christians would be safeguarding their constitutional rights through the ballot this year. Religious bigotry will be answered back through votes that may have a significant say in almost 75 constituencies of the country.
The writer is a BS Mass Communication Student at Punjab University and blogs at http://www.fakihahassanrizvi.wordpress.com
Originally published in Pakistan Daily Times. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C04%5C01%5Cstory_1-4-2013_pg3_6