Preachy Bilawal should know Pakistan is a graveyard of minorities: As for India, just look at Parsis and Bohras
If India’s true minority policy has to be understood and appreciated, one should look at how some of the smallest communities like Parsis, Jews and Buddhists or even Bohras, Ismailis and Ahmadiyyas have been treated
Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, speaking at an event in New York on the sidelines of the just concluded UN General Assembly, claimed that the “Hindutva ideology being promoted in India fuelled violence against its two billion Muslim minority in the country”. Alleging that there is a state policy in India to suppress its minorities, Bilawal added: “India was once a secular state, but now it’s becoming a Hindu-dominated country.”
It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. For, Bilawal, as a foreign minister, is presiding over a nation that invents and innovates ways to persecute its minorities. One of the most vicious forms of minority oppression in Pakistan has been the blasphemy law which, as per a 2020 Al Jazeera report, has made the victims look for cover for as absurd charges as “throwing a business card into the rubbish (the man’s name was Muhammad), a rural water dispute, spelling errors, the naming of a child, the design of a place of worship, burning a (non-religious) talisman or sharing a picture on Facebook”.
If a recent US Commission for International Religious Freedom report is to be believed, there are currently as many as 80 convicts on death row or serving life imprisonment terms in Pakistan for committing “blasphemy”. The number of the accused, no wonder, will go in thousands.
But then it would be too harsh on Bilawal to only single him out for his loose comments. The very Pakistan project is full of contradictions. The State was carved out the name of Islam, and yet its very creator, Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah indulged in what the puritans would call non-Islamic acts — from drinking alcohol to eating pork, and even dressing like an English gentleman. One of Pakistan’s foremost ‘liberal’ prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto, actually presided over the Taliban’s first rise in Afghanistan in the 1990s. General Pervez Musharraf, who “did not blanch at whiskey, danced when the mood was upon him”, as Steve Coll describes him in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Ghost Wars, staunchly believed in the necessity of the Taliban. And, till early this year, it had a prime minister who blamed “fahashi” (vulgarity) for the rise of rape and sexual violence in Pakistan, but in his youthful cricketing days, loved visiting famous British and Australian nightclubs, and had no qualms in having racy relationships.
Such contradictions in the very idea of Pakistan make it an abnormal state — and it can be gauged from the life and death of Salman Taseer, the then governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, who was assassinated by his own bodyguard in 2011 for seeking reforms in the blasphemy laws. Salman Taseer, for all his libertarian traits, however, saw himself as a defender of Islam. His son and author Aatish Taseer reveals this dichotomy in his book, Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Muslim Lands. “I felt sure that none of Islam’s once powerful moral imperatives existed within him, but he was a Muslim because he doubted the Holocaust, hated America and Israel, thought Hindus were weak and cowardly, and because the glories of the Islamic past excited him,” writes Aatish. Salman Taseer, just like the idea of Pakistan, pretentiously projected secular, liberal ethos while pursuing the dream of being a vanguard of Islam.
This hypocritical, part-modern-part-medievalistic nature of the State may have enabled Pakistan to act liberal or Islamist as per the script. It’s this intrinsic dichotomous nature of Pakistan to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds that make politicians like Bilawal accuse India of pursuing anti-minorityism while being forgetful about Pakistan’s disgraceful record vis-à-vis minorities.
According to Farahnaz Ispahani, the author of Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities, who was also the media advisor to the President of Pakistan between 2008 and 2012, Pakistan’s minorities today constitute a mere 3-4 per cent of the population, down from 23 per cent in 1947. Of these, the Hindu community compromises only 1.18 per cent, according to a report by the Centre for Peace and Justice Pakistan. Calling it a “drip-drip genocide”, she tells Elizabeth Roche in an interview with Mint: “Normally when people talk about genocide, they talk about Nazi Germany or they talk about Yugoslavia. In the case of Pakistan, this is slow genocide, this drip, drip, drip over 76 years.”
India, in sharp contrast to Pakistan’s vanishing minorities, saw them growing and flourishing in the past 75 years. Though religious groups grew at different rates between 1951 and 2011, every major religion in India saw its numbers rise. For example, Hindus increased from 304 million to 966 million, Muslims grew from 35 million to 172 million, and Christians rose from 8 million to 28 million. In percentage terms, Hindus constitute 79.8 per cent of the total population in India, followed by Muslims at 14.23 per cent, and Christians at 2.3 per cent. As per the 1951 Census, Hindus constituted 84.1 per cent, Muslims 9.8 per cent and Christian 2.3 per cent. So, while the Muslim population in India has grown substantially, in the neighbouring Pakistan Hindus face an existential crisis.
Bilawal and his pseudo-liberal friends, both within Pakistan and outside, won’t understand and appreciate that liberalism in India is not an artificial construct superimposed by the will of the Constitution. India is secular and liberal because it has culturally and civilisationally been so. It was no coincidence that after thoroughly debating in the Constituent Assembly, it was decided not to keep the word ‘secularism’ in the Constitution of India. It’s also interesting to note that the term found an access into the pages of the Constitution during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, which without doubt was the darkest phase in India’s democracy.
If India’s true and traditional minority policy has to be understood and appreciated, one has to look at how some of the smallest communities like Parsis, Jews and Buddhists or even minority Muslim sects such as Bohras, Ismailis and Ahmadiyyas have been treated. In fact, the Parsi saga is a classic case of how the majority-minority relationship should shape. Given their minuscule numbers and the desperate situation in which they had knocked India’s doors, the Parisis could have been the easiest to persecute and annihilate. Instead, they became one the most educated and affluent communities in India.
As per Qissa-e-Sanjan,when the Parsis sought asylum, a Hindu ruler in Gujarat called Jadi Rana sent a glass full of milk to them. The king’s message was that his kingdom was full with local people. The Parisis put sugar into the milk, indicating that they would stay in India like sugar. Jadi Rana granted them permission to stay on the condition that they would learn Gujarati and wear the local attire. The immigrants agreed and founded the town of Sanjan in Gujarat, named after their hometown in Iran.
Bilawal should read the story of Parsis in India and see how this minuscule community has not just survived but flourished amid the ocean of Hindus. Other smaller minorities too have similar stories to share — from Jews and Buddhists to Bohras and Ismailis. The Hindu relationship with India’s smallest minorities has always manifested the sweetness of the ties between them. But then for someone born with the notion of “a perfect and perfected religion”, and has internalised the superiority of one’s faith, the water-and-sugar saga would hold no water. For him, Hindu tolerance and generosity would be fake and hollow, and would be the seen as a sign of a weak and enervate Hindu awaiting annihilation, if not conversion.
The author is Opinion Editor, Firstpost and News18. He tweets from @Utpal_Kumar1. Views expressed are personal.