By Khaled Ahmed
October 24, 2015
Pakistani judges don’t shy away from announcing personal piety in their judgments, and no one protests the injustice dished out to people who can’t be considered pious because they are non-Muslim. That’s what happens when you found a state on religion. On August 23, Dawn reported what Hindus of Karachi felt was happening to them. You have to harden your heart to read this. Those in India who feel bad about the Dadri lynching will empathise with this Karachi community. Are we separate without being different?
In Karachi’s Jogi Morr in Qayyumabad there are slums where human beings live in excrement. The slum is worse than usual because the inhabitants are Hindus. It has been home to 4,000 Marwari-Gujaratis for the last 60 years. They must have moved to Karachi from the desert, their original home. Their leader, Krishan Bhandari, says the locality gets no water or electricity for days. “Our children left school because they don’t have identity cards as Hindus, and problems of livelihood have escalated because not a single government team has visited since 2008 when 10 per cent of us procured cards,” he says.
Why no ID cards? Because someone especially pious — probably a bearded, middle-aged, born-again Muslim in the card-issuing authority, Nadra — asked for documentation the Hindus simply can’t procure. He makes them visit his office again and again so that he can reject their paperwork and refuse them ID cards. He asks them to bring “certified marriage certificates”. Any sane person would laugh at the demand; but Pakistan has gone insane with religion.
Bhandari asks: “Where is the law that grants Hindu marriage permits?” Muslims have marriage (nikah) documentation centres, but the state forgot to arrange something like that for non-Muslims too. What is more, state-run hospitals refuse treatment to Hindus because charity treatment is funded by an Islamic tax called zakat, which cannot be given to non-Muslims — a medieval throwback to times when non-Muslims were not full citizens.
Twenty-year-old Dhaniya, supporting a family of eight, worked in a factory till he was dismissed for not having an ID card. So how does one survive as a Hindu in this slum? One borrows, after which one becomes a bonded slave worker.
In Lahore, a Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad, paying off debt while working at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, was accused of blasphemy in November 2014. A mob of pious Muslims beat them to death before burning them in the brick kiln. The government took action, locked up the kiln-owner, who was ripping off bonded labour, and rounded up the mob. A similar case came up in Kabul, Afghanistan, in which another pious mob killed and burned a girl falsely accused of blasphemy.
After this, ironies crowd in, which a dysfunctional religious state can’t grasp. As the Christian couple burned, their children were saved and sent away by their grandfather, Mukhtar Masih, to their uncle’s home. The four children of Shama and Shahzad were adopted by the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, run by Cecil Chaudhry’s daughter, Michelle Chaudhry, to allow them to survive and get educated. Here the irony strikes thick and fast: Cecil Chaudhry was Pakistan’s ace pilot who shot down so many Indian jets that he was awarded the highest military award of the country. After retiring from the air force, he ran Lahore’s St Anthony’s High School and its dozens of branches open to Muslims in smaller towns. Pakistan’s prime minister went to that school.
In the book, The Independence of India and Pakistan: New Approaches and Reflections (2013), edited by Ian Talbot, it is surmised that “the origin of Christianity in Punjab is dated back [by some writers] to the work of St Thomas in the first century AD”. In 1947, Christians, led by their leaders in Lahore, opted to stay in Pakistan because Muslims accepted “the people of the book” and had a common belief in some of their prophets. They had no idea that Pakistan would someday have a blasphemy law targeting Christians, who would not be saved by judges publicising their piety with beards and convicting innocent Christians, including children, for fear of being mauled by mobs sent by jihadi non-state actors.
In the first week of December 1997, the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, visited Pakistan. After meeting with the church officialdom, he called on the government in Islamabad to repeal the blasphemy law because it had become the cause of persecution of Christians in Pakistan. The Urdu press reacted angrily and got a variety of ulema to issue statements against the archbishop. The English-language press was positive and recorded the archbishop’s appeal faithfully. The Urdu press was on the verge of being abusive, printing statements asking him to go away. Have South Asian mother tongues gone toxic?
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’.