Empowering Non-Muslims in Pakistan

Empowering Non-Muslims in Pakistan
By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
Member National Assembly
Patron-in-chief, Pakistan Hindu Council
Pakistan Movement led by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah forced the British rulers to leave the Sub-continent and Pakistan was created in 1947 as an independent country consisting of those regions in the east and west of the Subcontinent where there was a Muslim majority. Pakistan Movement was purely a democratic and peaceful struggle for protecting the rights of common people but it is very unfortunate that Pakistan which was founded to protect the rights of Muslim minority in the British India is today blamed as a Muslim-majority country where the rights of Non-Muslim minorities are being violated on a larger scale.
Despite the unending debate on the Secular rule of law or enforcing Islamic laws on the newly-founded country, Quaid-e-Azam was very much optimistic to provide equal opportunities to Non-Muslims so that like other citizens, Non-Muslims could play their dynamic role to move the country toward peace and prosperity. Quaid-e-Azam, during his historic address to the first Constitutional Assembly of Pakistan in August 1947, had asked Non-Muslim Pakistani citizens, largely consisting of Hindus, to stay in Pakistan, as they will be treated equal citizens in the eyes of Pakistani government and the religious freedom will also be ensured to them. The appointment of Jogendra Nath Mandal as the country’s first Law Minister also served as a ray of hope for the frightened Hindu community, who were living peacefully on the Pakistani soil from centuries and thus, a very large number of Hindu families, had cancelled their plans to migrate. At the time of independence, nearly one-fourth Pakistani population (around 23%) was consisting of Non-Muslims, which according to official record is now reduced to 6%.
Interestingly, Quaid-e-Azam’s another speech at Peshawar Islamia College on April 1948 in which he stated that “demand of Pakistan was not just for the sake of a piece of land but to obtain such a laboratory, where the Principles of Islam could be adopted” was widely publicized to visualize Pakistan as a theocratic state. It is worth to mention here that the first Islamic Government in the entire world history was established by the Islamic Prophet (PBUH) in Madina where He signed peace treaties with non-Muslim citizens. According to Charter of Madina, the non-Muslims were ensured to have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. “They will have autonomy and freedom of religion, and there will be no treachery between the two,” the charter emphasized all Muslim and Non-Muslim citizens to support each other in the time of need and joint struggle against the rebellious anti-peace elements.
Although, the deviation from Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of peaceful Pakistan for all citizens was initiated at the very beginning of Pakistan when massacre of innocent and peaceful Hindu citizens and occupation of their properties had started in the name of religion but approval of the Objectives Resolution in March 1949 had created the clear division among Muslim and Non-Muslim politicians in the corridors of power as well. All Muslim members except for Mian Iftikhar uddin voted in favor of it and non-Muslims opposed it. At that time nobody was in mood to listen Kumar Datta, a Hindu politician from East Pakistan, who warned that “If this resolution came in life of Jinnah it would not have come in its present form. Let us not do anything which lead our generation to blind destiny.” Serious concerns shown by non-Muslim politicians on the occasion were proven right as the eastern part of Pakistan was lost just after 20 years but the resolution has not been implemented till today in the true spirit, and the doubts in the minds of the non-Muslims still exist.
Pakistan came into existence as a result of democratic struggle and it also has historical roots with democracy. Indus Valley Civilization, which was flourished on the today’s Pakistan, was one of the earliest and largest ancient human civilizations known for the earliest cradle and model of democracy based on well-disciplined lifestyle and a common Rule of Law. Kautilya (also known as Chanakya) was a Hindu teacher at ancient Taxila who is acknowledged throughout the world as the pioneer of the field of political science.
Pakistan, according to the constitution, is a democratic parliamentary republic state with its political system based on an elected form of governance but throughout the history there has been deviation from democracy both in the form of dictatorships and political uncertainty. It is believed that the most extreme atrocities on minorities in the 20th and 21st centuries have been found in dictatorships across the globe and Pakistan is no more an exceptional where the Zia regime enforced strict religious laws on the Non-Muslim population as well.
The rulers in the past failed to understand that although Pakistan was founded in the name of religion consisting of those regions where Muslims live in the majority but majority rule must not be considered as an excuse to the denial of the basic rights of Non-Muslim minorities. According to latest report by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the number of Non-Muslim votes stands at 2.99 million where Hindu voters have a dominating majority among all the Non-Muslim minority communities with their number (1.49m) constituting half of the total non-Muslim voters in the country. The way Muslim majority in Pakistan treats Non-Muslims always echoes internationally, especially in the west and India where Muslims are in minority. I believe that just as no self-appointed group or non-state actor has the right to oppress others, so no majority government should take away the basic rights and freedoms of any minority group or individual. Among the basic human rights that must be protected at any cost, in my views, are freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and faith, equal citizenship, and freedom to organize, speak out, dissent, and participate fully in the public life to serve the country. Moreover, the state institutions must understand that protecting the rights of Non-Muslims to uphold cultural and religious identity, social practices, individual consciences, and holy places is one of their primary tasks.
Empowering Non-Muslim citizens in the state institutions would be very much beneficial for Pakistan on national and international level. The appointment of late Rana Bhagwan Das as acting Chief Justice of Pakistan was although for a short period of time but still after his sad demise, positive impacts could be feel. A very positive message could be delivered if a Non-Muslim holds the office of important institutions such as State Bank, Planning Commission, Pakistan Telecom Authority, etc. A Pakistani Non-Muslim ambassador to a strategically important country can present the case of Pakistan in more efficient way as India used to appoint Indian Muslim envoys in almost all Muslim countries to get their support on the Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Similarly, to counter the anti-Pakistan biasness and propaganda on the international arena, Non-Muslim Foreign Minister or Information Minister could also be in the best interest of Pakistan. The appointment of Non-Muslim provincial Governor by the Federal Government would be considered as a positive step not only to strengthen the Federation but also to win the hearts and minds of Non-Muslim citizens. Further, the chapter of allegations of election rigging could also be closed if there is a Non-Muslim Election Commissioner responsible for organizing and conducting of elections to state parliament, provincial legislatures, local governments, elections to the office of President of Pakistan, Delimitation of Constituencies and preparation of Electoral Rolls.
There is also a dire need for the implementation of Liaqat-Nehru Pact to appoint a Non-Muslim chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board for taking care of holy worship places and evacuee properties attached to educational, charitable or religious trusts left behind by Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India after partition.
Today, we are having a democratic set up where the current government is a result of first transition of power from one democratically elected government to another in the entire 66-year history but for strengthening democracy in Pakistan and projecting the country’s positive democratic image on all platforms, a number of such bold steps are required so that international community will have trust that Pakistan is protecting the rights and self-identity of its Non-Muslim citizens. Once this is achieved, Non-Muslim Pakistani citizens would also be in better position to participate in, and contribute to their beloved country’s development.

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