Minorities Gasp for Air in a More Undemocratic Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Seventy years since Muhammad Ali Jinnah made his famous August 11 speech about the freedom of religious minorities, Pakistan has become a much darker place than what its founders intended to be. His understanding of the logical consequence of founding Pakistan is astounding to anyone with even a remote understanding of the reasons for a separate state for the Muslim community. However, his words remain to be a beacon of inspiration for those who intend to make the social contract in Pakistan fair and humane, even though in reality it is nothing more than a speech.

The founder of the nation must have been shocked out of his senses seeing the covert military dictatorship that goes on behind democracy. The way the deep state has been censoring and manipulating the electronic media has been so astounding that even mainstream journalists could not resist raising their voices on alternative media sources. While the military and bureaucratic regime of the country has not yet considered social media such a threat, but as we have witnessed a couple of instances before, it is not beyond the Pakistani deep state to deprive its citizens of this modern but basic source of self-expression.

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It is an even greater disgrace, and perhaps a consequence of the authoritarian regime, that the current election was held as a virtual referendum on the discriminatory and undemocratic Second Amendment. The military and the theocratic mullah establishment clearly joined hands against one political party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had taken a relatively secular turn of late. Some Sunni clerics even went so far as to declare voting for the party haraam or forbidden according to Sharia. The two million votes and two Sindh assembly seats for the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan are a testament to the fact.

This is the consequence of establishing a constitution that requires Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic. It is a travesty that in such a country people would even claim that the religious minority citizens have equal rights. And then to maintain that Islam offers the best alternative to secularism. It is because of these faux intellectuals and theocratic bigots that Pakistan is in such a dismal state of civil rights and individual freedom. Relatively more liberal and progressive parties such as the PPP continue to offer representatives from religious minority groups opportunities on general seats but all of this remains meaningless unless constitutional reforms are brought into place. Something that remains impossible due to more nationalist and populist elements coming to power.

People continue to be killed in the name of blasphemy. Forget the minority religions, even members of the majority religion are not safe either. Recently, a Sindhi artist Qutb Rind was pushed from a building in Lahore because of an alleged blasphemy. To my mind, artists such as Rind are indeed minorities in an obscurantist nation blinded by bigotry and religious hate.

I can only be ashamed of being a citizen of such a country where minority communities are treated with such brutality and hang my hand low in shame this independence day.

Bureaucratic Excesses and the National Language Question

Today is Pakistan’s 68th independence day and we still have a lot of unresolved issues in our backyard.

Recently, Marvi Memon, a PML-N MP from a Punjab reserved seat, introduced a Constitutional Amendment bill into the National Assembly. The bill was about proposing to declare Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Hindko, Shina and Barahvi among others to be national languages as opposed to their current regional status.

It was rejected by the multipartisan National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice, 4-1. The bill sought to amend the Article 251 which declares Urdu the only national language.

A lot of people have a problem with this, but since it was voted out under due process, I do not. However, I do think such underdog bills deserve a chance for a broader voting in the House instead of the scrutiny from the Standing Committee.

Another disturbing aspect here was the interference from the bureaucracy during the debate on the bill. The Special Secretary of the Law Ministry, Justice (R) Muhammad Raza Khan, opposed the bill because as per him the bill was pointless under the light of Article 28, which guarantees the fundamental right of preserving a language and a script.

But perhaps, this bill is not about preserving these languages as Marvi Memon explained. Her point is to honor the languages by declaring their status as national. 

Source: Express Tribune

Marvi Memon – Source: Express Tribune

It just sounds like another piece of political correctness, unnecessary to some, but our constitution gets so much wrong in the textbook after all. So maybe it is important. Article 1 anyone?

He also opposed it because declaring another language, Bangla, as the national language, apparently caused the separation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Well, first of all, people should get their 1971 history right. But let’s not get into that.

What the honorable Secretary forgot is that the UN International Mother Language Day is inspired by killings in a protest against neglecting Bangla as the national language. And he also seems to ignore other constitutional and political differences that led to the 1971 war.

The argument about more than one national language threatening the union of the federation is also beyond me, since English and Urdu will remain to be the official languages and those who use Urdu to communicate to those with a different mother tongue would still continue to do so.

Not sure if there is any evidence to suggest that more than one languages weaken a federation. South Africa seems to have 11 official languages.

However, since the purpose is symbolism for people on both sides of the debate, the arguments from other side may or may not make any sense.

In any case, underdog bills should be given a chance of voting in the House and bureaucracy should stay away from the process of legislation and leave it to elected MPs. That’s the only way to see where the representatives of the people stand on this issue and to overcome federal authoritarianism. 

Some of the arguments against more than one national languages are really strange. But as long as the proposals are voted out democratically, I have no problems at all.

 Happy Independence Day.