Friday, June 11, 2010
Unfortunately, for the last 25 years, Pakistan officially forgot the rights of its minorities to ‘freely’ “profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures”. General Ziaul Haq omitted the word ‘freely’ from the original text of the Objectives Resolution through the 8th Amendment. Nobody noticed it till now when the incumbent government was able to restore the word in the constitution through the 18th Amendment. It is shocking that not only was this omission never highlighted but even the reinsertion was ignored by many until the Supreme Court’s remarks on this issue on Tuesday. The chief justice remarked how strange it was “that not even a single member in the 1985 National Assembly noticed the mistake and allowed the 8th Amendment to pass just like that.” He lauded the incumbent parliament for doing away with this grave injustice to the minorities.
In the absence of a constitution immediately after independence, Pakistan was ruled under the Government of India Act 1935. The Objectives Resolution was passed in 1949 by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan so that the country’s future constitution would not be completely based on a European model. This resolution laid the foundations of an incrementally theocratic state, something that the founder of Pakistan, Mr Jinnah, never envisaged.
In his August 11, 1947 speech, Jinnah made it clear that one’s religion would have nothing to do with the business of the state. “Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state,” were the exact words of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But the Objectives Resolution and subsequently all our rulers ignored Jinnah and did the exact opposite of what he professed and stood for. As Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry rightly remarked, it is indeed strange that nobody noticed this ‘mistake’ (read criminal negligence) in 1985. For the past 25 years, the state had officially stamped its approval to ‘freely’ discriminate against religious minorities. Jinnah and the others who fought for the freedom of Pakistan always argued that the Muslims were a large minority in India, thus they needed constitutional safeguards. The Congress’s refusal to accept the Muslim minority as a nation inevitably led to the partition of the Indian subcontinent. It is both ironic and tragic that a state formed on the basis of a large minority transmogrified into a state that could not protect the rights of its own minorities. Successive governments and the military, for their foreign policy objectives, nurtured the religious extremists, ultimately leading to an intolerant society. We just have to take a look around us to know how the Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmedis and Shias have been subjected to violence by the right-wing fanatics over the years. The massacre of the Ahmedis on May 28 is a grim reminder of the state of affairs vis-à-vis the minorities in Pakistan.
Justice Jawwad S Khwaja’s words are true: “We cannot shut our eyes or go into denial as intolerance is increasing. All is not honky dory here.” It is a constitutional obligation for all state institutions, including the judiciary, to protect the rights of the minorities. It is time to bring back the ‘white’. *