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Archive for the ‘Minority Treatment’ Category

I am not surprised in the least by the ongoing exodus of Hindus from Pakistan due to escalating Talibanization of the country. When even upper and middle classes  in major urban centers in Pakistan are not safe from Taliban-inspired violence and terrorism, what hope can there be for poor members of religious minorities in rural areas? Surely, they would face the full brunt of religious bigotry and cruelty from Islamic zealots.

[Fearing Taliban, Pak Hindus take Thar Express to India; The Times of India; Vimal Bhatia; 10 September 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

In the past four years, some 5,000 Hindus may have crossed over from Pakistan, never to return. It has not been easy abandoning their homes, sometimes even their families, but they say they had no choice: they had to flee the Taliban.

It started as a trickle in 2006, the year the Thar Express was flagged off. The weekly train starts from Karachi, enters India at Munabao, a border town in Barmer, and runs up to Jodhpur. In the first year, 392 Hindus crossed over. This grew to 880 in 2007. The next year, the number was 1,240, and this year, till August, over 1,000 have crossed over. They just keep extending their visas and hope to become Indian citizens. Incidentally, these are official figures. Sources say there are many more who cross over and melt in the local milieu. And officials have a soft corner for these people, most of whom have harrowing stories to tell.

Ranaram, who used to live in the Rahimyar district of Pakistan’s Punjab, says he fell prey to the Taliban. His wife was kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted to Islam. His two daughters were also forcibly converted. Ranaram, too, had to accept Islam for fear of his life. He thought it best to flee with his two daughters; his wife was untraceable. Dungaram, another migrant, says atrocities against Hindus in Pakistan have increased in the past two years after the ouster of Musharraf. “We won’t get permanent jobs unless we convert to Islam.”

Hindu Singh Sodha, president of Seemant Lok Sangathan, a group working for the refugees in Barmer and Jaisalmer, says there’s unfortunately no proper refugee policy in India even though people from Pakistan reach here in large numbers. He said in 2004-05, over 135 families were given Indian citizenship but the rest are still living illegally in the country and are often tortured by police because they don’t have proper citizenship certificates. “In December 2008, over 200 Hindus were converted to Islam in Mirpur Khas town of Pakistan. But there are several others who want to stick to their religion but there’s no safety for them in Pakistan.”

Immigration officer at Munabao railway station, Hetudan Charan, says the arrival of Hindu migrants had suddenly increased as over 15 to 16 families were reaching India every week. “None of them admit they are to settle here but seeing their baggage, we easily understand,” he said. Ravi Kumar, who was Barmer collector till his transfer two days back, said the government in 2007 had given permanent citizenship to a few Pakistani immigrants.

The original article is available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/india/Fearing-Taliban-Pak-Hindus-take-Thar-Express-to-India/articleshow/4992774.cms

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I would like to draw attention to the growing violence against Pakistan’s Christian community. The violence is not only a consequence of the general intolerance towards religious minorities on account of official Islamization but is also in good part rooted in abuse of “blasphemy laws” for the purpose of looting Christian property. These laws were introduced in mid 1980s by the late dictator Zia-ul-Haq and mandated death penalty for anyone accused of “blasphemy” against Islam. Local miscreants – who typically have an eye on Christian property – whip up a mob against select Christians with allegations of blasphemy, thereby forcing them to flee for safety. The abandoned property and possessions are then systematically looted. Of course, Pakistani government doesn’t have the moral courage to annul these shameful laws.

Posted below are two informative articles on Christian suffering.

[Pakistani Christians live in fear; DAWN; 03 Sep, 2009; Copy and Paste]

Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) says. The Council, a global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been “living in a state of fear and terror… and many innocent people have lost their lives”, the WCC said in a statement.

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country where religious minorities account for roughly four per cent – three quarters of whom are Christians – of its 170 million people. In early August, the WCC head, Kenyan Methodist Samuel Kobia, protested to the Pakistani government over violence in Punjab province when Muslims torched Christian homes and eight people were killed, seven of them burned to death. Reports at the time said the attacks in Gojra town were sparked by allegations, denied by church leaders as well as Pakistani government officials, that Christians had desecrated the Quran.

Pakistani government officials said the violence, which also brought protests from Pope Benedict, was the work of Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the country’s Taliban movement. The WCC, which works with the Vatican on many religious issues, said it felt the blasphemy law, and the way it was abused, was the main problem. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistani minister for minorities, said the law had been abused by “extremist elements” against minorities and the government wanted to review it. “We are receiving demands from different sections of society, especially from the minority communities, to review this law,” Bhatti told Reuters.

“We are in the process of consultation with different stakeholders and after this consultation, we intend to review this law to stop the misuse.” Convictions for blasphemy are fairly common in Pakistan with most cases involving members of religious minorities, but death sentences have never been carried out – usually because convictions are thrown out on a lack of evidence. But there have been cases where accused have been killed by mobs. The death penalty for blasphemy was introduced in the 1980s by then military ruler, General Ziaul Haq. Later governments tried to amend the law but had to drop their plans because of opposition from Islamic groups.

The original article is available at:
http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/04-pakistani-christians-live-fear-churches-say-qs-05

[Communal tensions; Dawn Editorial; 17 Sep, 2009; Copy and Paste]

The religious chauvinism that has become rampant in the country is nowhere in better evidence than in the case of Fanish Masih. On Friday, in village Jaithikey near Sialkot, allegations spread that Masih and four other young men had desecrated a copy of the Quran. Requiring no proof, a slavering mob burnt down a church and ransacked nearby houses. The terror felt by the areas Christian residents was such that the entire community – some 30 Christian households amongst over a 100 Muslim homes – abandoned their dwellings and fled.

Masih was found dead in his cell on Tuesday, with jail officials claiming he had committed suicide. The exact circumstances of Masih’s death are shadowy and merit a thorough inquiry: the method of “suicide” described so far by the jail authorities raises many questions. Moreover, having taken him into custody, it was the duty of the authorities to keep Masih safe. The protection of all citizens is a fundamental responsibility of the state and its subsidiaries.

Outbreaks of communal tension – especially that stoked by allegations of blasphemy – can have a snowball effect. This incident comes on the heels of the tragedy in Gojra, where several Christians were killed and many homes were torched by a similarly enraged mob. The country cannot risk these attacks turning into a pogrom against minorities, particularly given suspicions that certain banned sectarian outfits had a hand in the Gojra violence. By neglecting to protect minority community members and failing to take action against rampaging mobs, the law stands in danger of signalling that such violence is tolerated by the state.

As the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan pointed out in a recent statement, “allegations of blasphemy and defiling of religious scriptures… do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens.” In the Jaithikey incident, a case has been registered against unknown people for burning down the church. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks of this nature. The majority Muslim community must also learn to adhere to the law and demonstrate self-restraint.

The original article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/08-communal-tensions-ts-01

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I recently came across an excellent interview that sheds light on Islamization of Pakistan and its treatment of minorities, particularly Christians.

The interviewee is Dr Charles Amjad-Ali, the Martin Luther King Jr Professor for Justice and Christian Community and the director of Islamic studies programme at the Luther Seminary in St Paul, US. Mr. Amjad-Ali was ordained as a presbyter of the Church of Pakistan in 1987 and is one of the founders of major civil society organizations in Pakistan, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research. He has studied Islamic Law and History from Columbia University at the post-doctoral level after having done his PhD in contemporary philosophy at Frederich Wilhelm University in Bonn, Germany.

[Victimization of the minorities; DAWN; By Muhammad Badar Alam; 12 Sep, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

Q- How do you contextualise the anti-minority violence in Pakistan? How and why in socio-political and historical terms have religious minorities come to be so flagrantly victimised, so obviously marginslised and so openly discriminated against?

A- One has to contextualise the continuing violence, flagrant victimisation, marginalisation and discrimination against the minorities in Pakistan, through a critical look at its history. This is best expressed in the debate on the reasons for founding Pakistan. The gist of the conservative stance is that Pakistan was made for Islam. This resurfaced belligerently and with vehemence during the Zia period, ending up in the slogan: “Pakistan ka matlab kya? La illa ha illalah!” This of course excluded the minorities completely. The ‘liberal’ side of Pakistan, or should I say the relatively more authentic side of the debate, argued that Pakistan was made for Muslims, not for Islam. The problem with this position is the high level of subtlety and differentiation which escapes the majority. Thus the sloganeers, playing on a common sentiment and simple clichés, are able to control the discourse.

I want to add a little more nuance to this debate by arguing that Pakistan was a nation exclusively created by and for a minority of India. For some 700 years the Muslims ruled large parts of the Indian subcontinent, which always had a Hindu majority. This rule ranged from being highly accepting of the plurality of religious communities (c.f. Akbar and the Din-e-Elahi) to being repressive (c.f. Aurangzeb and his ‘Islamisation’ policies). As the independence of India became certain, with its clear democratic ideals, the minorities were afraid that the guarantees provided by the British Empire, no matter how skewed, would not be upheld in the independent India. They had grounds for their apprehensions, and part of their fear was that the tyranny of the sheer majority of around 80 per cent Hindus would not allow any other group to have a place on a level playing field. These fears were accentuated by the Government of India Act of 1935, and the subsequent provincial elections held in the winter of 1936/37.

It is interesting to note that on October 15, 1946, in the political jockeying for power, the All India Muslim League nominated a Scheduled Caste Hindu (a Dalit), Jogindar Nath Mandal, to Lord Wavell’s Interim Government of India. He was among such Muslim League luminaries as Liaquat Ali Khan, I I Chundrigar, Abdur Rab Nishtar, Ghazanfar Ali Khan. This same Jogindar Nath was the chairman of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, when Jinnah was elected the Governor General of Pakistan and gave his oft quoted famous speech about the democratic, egalitarian and fully participatory nature and future of Pakistan. Mandal was also later the highest ranking minority member of the Cabinet that the Quaid put together; ironically he was the Minister of Law and Labour.

Furthermore, in 1947 three Christian members of the Punjab Assembly, S P Singha, C E Gibbon and Joshua Fazal Din, voted with the Muslim League and thus in favour of Pakistan, which is a clear indication of what they saw Pakistan to be. They were taking the words of the Quaid seriously. We all know about Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947, but what we forget is that on August 12, the Constituent Assembly appointed a special ‘Committee on Fundamental Rights of Citizens and Minorities of Pakistan,’ to look into and advise it on matters relating to the fundamental rights of the citizens, particularly the minorities.

One can expand these early democratic and rights oriented understandings of Pakistan. The first real undoing of all this early promise was the adoption of the Objectives Resolution on March 12, 1949, which played immediately into the hands of the more conservative Muslim leadership.

The pre-Independence orthodox, conservative, and newly emerging fundamentalist Islamic movements were all against the formation of Pakistan. For them, if a state was created in the name of Islam for the Muslim population of India, then Islam was being reduced to a nation-state rather than a pan-ethnic, pan-national ummah with Khilafat as its political order. This was seen fundamentally as a product of a western nationalism. Also, this nationalism, and its concurrent democratic ideals, was seen primarily as products of liberal bourgeois democratic republicanism with no basis in Islam. (It is no wonder that the Khilafat movement and the Independence movement had two distinct groups of Muslims supporting them). While it was perhaps a doctrinally accurate perception, it was based on an ossified understanding of Islam.

Contrary to these groups, the people who struggled for the foundation of Pakistan were much more familiar with western political and philosophical ideas and ideals than with the Islamic sources on these issues. These men were what has come to be called ‘Islamic modernists,’ who never envisioned, even when they gave lip service to Islam for the sake of republican democratisation policies, the kind of Islam that is dominant in Pakistan today.

The Islamic influence, however, begins primarily as a way for the conservative elements to try to influence and control the destiny of Pakistan, first by adopting the Objectives Resolution, then creating the Ahmedi Crisis of the early 1950s and then by naming the country the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ for the first time in the Constitution of 1956. This was a utilitarian and cynical shift in the position of the conservative Islamic groups. They were first against the formation of Pakistan on Islamic grounds, but once Pakistan came into existence, without any input from them and even after their active resistance, they decided to make Pakistan an ideal Muslim state on the basis of an ossified interpretation of the early Islamic state without seeing the sheer religious paradox of this position. The irony is that their kind of Islam now provides the grammar, and is stated as the raison d’etre of Pakistan.

So the Islamic influence has progressively grown. Pakistan today sits in the international arena as the hotbed for the generation of Islamic fundamentalism, Jihadists, ‘terrorists,’ such as al-Qaeda, Taliban or whatever new nomenclature is given to them or a small group takes for itself.

Q- Do you believe the current global strategic situation charactrised by 9/11 and perceived by many as a clash between Islam and Christian West has something to do with the rising tide of violence against Christians in Pakistan?

A- It must be remembered that the Islamisation of the society, culture, polity and economics grew in fits and starts between 1956-1977. However, in 1977 things changed radically with the martial law of General Zia-ul-Haq and at this point Islam begins to dominate the state. Here the need for Zia to justify his regime on other than democratic grounds, coincided with the needs of the US and Saudi Arabia to refute the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, both in 1979. There was already a precursor of this confluence in the refutation of socialism, and even of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

So the Islamisation process was not just an endogenously produced element but was fully aided, abetted, and even engendered exogenously by the US and Saudi Arabia as well.

It is apparent that each time the Islamic identity is emphasized in the larger political and policy discourse, it threatens the minorities’ existence deeply; the more Islamic Pakistan becomes the less secure is the status of the minorities in it. Therefore the Christians remain under the closest scrutiny of these fundamentalist groups. The state is either not powerful enough or unwilling to protect these minorities in general and the Christian minority in particular, against these conservative elements. Any protection provided to these Christians is immediately classified as being based on the dictates of the West, and particularly at the behest of the hateful United States.

However, despite this picture, there still lies a deep-seated condescension towards the Pakistani Christians because a large majority of them comes from what the Hindus classified as the unclean and untouchable classes (dalit). The prejudice of untouchability of the caste-based Hindu ethos remains a very strong operational residue in Indian and Pakistani Islam. It is applied particularly towards Christians, not only because of their origins, but rather because quite a large number among them are in the cleaning industry, and belong to this untouchable class even today. The very conservative Muslims who want to follow the puritanical rules of Islam and want to live out their lives in imitation of the Prophet at this point become quite Hindu in their caste-based attitude towards the Christians.

So there is a fundamental paradox in Pakistani society vis-à-vis Christian-Muslim relations. One the one hand, the Christians are all seen as being dalits, and therefore totally irrelevant and of no consequence whatsoever. On the other hand, whenever something goes wrong between Islam and the West, the first people to feel the full brunt of reactions are the Christians who face the threat of mob violence against which the state is either unwilling or unable to protect them. What happens as an intermittent reality becomes an ever-present sword of Damocles and makes the Christians of Pakistan extremely insecure.

The full interview is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/03-victimisation-of-the-minorities-ss-03

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Even though I am not an Indian and have never visited India, I must say that I am very surprised at Shabana Azmi’s statement in an interview on CNN-IBN that she and her husband have never been able to buy a flat in Mumbai on account of their Muslim names despite being prominent members of Bollywood royalty.

Mumbai is supposedly the most cosmopolitan city in India and there are millions of Muslims in Maharashtra. Surely, not all of them can be forced out of the city? Maybe one particular Mumbai neighborhood – or more precisely, one specific building in Mumbai – denied her permission to buy a flat?

This can happen in New York City also in so-called “co-op” buildings: applicants have to be approved by the board and can be denied for any reason. There have been well publicized incidents where Jewish applicants have been denied entry into WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) co-op buildings.

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The controversy surrounding Ahmadiyya/Qadyanis stems from their views on Islamic Prophet Muhammed. The “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” (AMC) – a branch of Ahmadiyya – for example , believes that there can be prophets following Muhammed (though not of his stature) while almost all Muslims accept Muhammed as the last Prophet.

On account of agitation by hardline Jammat-e-Islami, PM Bhutto in the 70s officially declared Ahmadiayya to be non-Muslims. Their plight further increased during Islamization of General Zia in the 80s. As a result, the community was largely forced to go underground, officers resigned from senior government posts, and prominent members went into exile in Europe or US.

It is important to note that Ahmadiyya community played a prominent role in Pakistan Movement and occupied senior positions in civil and military services after Pakistan’s creation. It was also active in media and educational sectors. Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdus Salaam, was a Qadyani.

DISCLAIMER: (1) I believe in equality of all citizens and freedom of religious practice; (2) I was not born into Ahmadiyya sect.

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The treatment of Ahmadiyya sect in Muslim countries is in many respects similar to that of Bahai community. Most scholars view Bahai as a “syncretic” faith (ie. it amalgamates beliefs of different religions) with a strong influence of (Islamic) Shiism, while hard-line Muslims view Bahai practitioners as apostates (on account of “external” religious influences).

Just like Ahmadis in Pakistan, Bahai were prominently represented in Iran’s civil and military services as well as its business community during the times of the late Shah. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, they were horrifically persecuted by the ruling Islamic clergy. Not surprisingly, many fled into exile in North America or Europe.

I had some Bahai classmates in my US university and must say they are among the most decent people I have ever met.

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