The dangers of a non-secular state

Given the tremendous diversity in the Indian subcontinent, only a secular state is feasible

June 05, 2014 12:46 am | Updated 12:46 am IST

Is Pakistan rapidly degenerating into a Jurassic Park? Consider the following events:

On May 7, an eminent lawyer and human rights activist, Rashid Rehman Khan, was shot dead by some assailants while he was sitting in his office. He was apparently killed because he was representing a university teacher, Junaid Hafeez, in a blasphemy case. During the trial proceedings, Mr. Khan was threatened by some lawyers with death unless he withdrew from the case.

In Pakistan, lawyers and witnesses for the defence in blasphemy cases are almost invariably threatened with death unless they agree to withdraw from these cases. Many judges are afraid to hear such cases or acquit the accused even if there is no credible evidence against him/her.

Mr. Khan was a very active human rights worker and a coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Whenever a person died in custody, he would take up his case. If acid was thrown at a woman, he would rush to get her medical help. He fought against ‘honour killing’ of young girls. He trekked across the backward tribal area of Dera Ghazi Khan and documented the misery of people living there. He went to that part of Rahim Yar Khan where low caste Hindus live without any rights, and reported their plight. He was the first to take up Mukhtaran Mai’s case. He fought Sherry Rehman’s persecutors up to the High Court level. He had a special interest in the welfare of peasants, and demanded land reforms and tenants’ rights (much of Pakistan landlordism still prevails).

Climate of fear Despite all this, consider what followed his murder — journalists in his home town Multan did not dare to write about his murder, judges in the Lahore High Court are avoiding hearing Asia Bibi’s appeal, Multan police are not seriously investigating the murder, and there have been no serious protests against this dastardly crime. Most Pakistanis remain mum, obviously out of fear.

Also consider this: on May 12, Dr. Faisal Manzoor, a prominent Shia medical practitioner, was gunned down outside his hospital in Hassanabdal. Dr. Manzoor, after getting his medical degree, could have gone to the U.S. or England, like many other doctors and been successful there, but he instead chose to go to his small hometown, where he built a modern hospital, to serve the people there. When an earthquake struck North Pakistan, he loaded a truck with medicines, food, blankets and tents and headed north, where he camped and distributed help to the needy. Why was he killed? Because he was a prominent Shia.

In Pakistan, lawyers and witnesses for the defence in blasphemy cases are almost invariably threatened with death unless they agree to withdraw from these cases

Similarly Dr. Syed Ali Haider, an eye surgeon, was shot dead in Lahore along with his son. Dr. Babar, Dr. Manzoor’s cousin, was also killed. What were their crimes? They were Shias, too. Many other such examples can be given.

On May 5, a pregnant woman, Farzana Parveen, was stoned to death in the middle of the day outside the Lahore High Court in full public view, for marrying a man against the wishes of her parents. Her father, brothers, and cousins were among the assailants. Her father later said he killed his daughter because she had dishonoured the family. He added that he had no regrets.

According to reports, about 1,000 Pakistani women and girls were victims of ‘honour killings’ last year. Further, 83 per cent Pakistanis support stoning to death as punishment for adultery. One couple killed their daughter for ‘dishonouring’ them by throwing acid on her face.

In the same month, Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar, a Canadian citizen since the early 90s, was gunned down in front of his wife and child in the town of Chenab Nagar in Pakistan. He had travelled from Canada to Pakistan to train local doctors at Tahir Cardiac Hospital for three weeks. He was shot dead because he belonged to the Ahmadi sect. Dr. Qamar was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, all of whom had migrated to North America out of fear of religious persecution.

Minorities in Pakistan (Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmadis, and Shias) live in a state of fear and are particularly vulnerable. This is the inevitable consequence of declaring Pakistan as an Islamic state.

‘A failed state’ Mahwash Badar, a Pakistani woman, in an article published on May 12, writes: “Jinnah made a mistake and I am ashamed of being a Pakistani. I am ashamed that I belong to a country that kills human rights lawyers and sitting governors, and issues death threats to university professors. I am ashamed that we cannot protect our women and children, and we cannot protect our men from the evil that is extremism and fundamentalism.

“Last year a polio worker was killed in Peshawar, and another shot dead in Khyber agency. Several were kidnapped in Bara. In January this year, gunmen killed five health workers taking part in a polio vaccination drive in Karachi. The highest refusal rates for polio vaccination were recorded in Karachi, because the people there have “little faith in public healthcare.” In North Waziristan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has forbidden vaccination since several years.

“Everything that is reported about Pakistan is about death, destruction, squabbling politicians, ailing children, extremists blowing up things, and a struggling economy.

“I raise my eyes to our neighbouring country, India. What would have happened if we were united? Maybe we would be polio free too. We share with our Indian brothers not only our DNA. Our food, language, clothes, lifestyles, etc are more like them than the Arabs we so badly want to mimic and ape.

Pakistan is a fledgling and failed state.”

Apart from the fact that the two nation theory (that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations) was bogus and mischievously created by the British and their agents, another important problem arises when an Islamic state is created in our subcontinent: Which Islam is the true Islam? Is it Sunni or Shia, Bareilvi or Deobandi, and so on.

I submit that in view of the tremendous diversity in our subcontinent, only a secular state is feasible here. Secularism does not mean that one cannot practice one’s own religion. It means that religion is a private affair, unconnected with the state which has no religion.

(Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is Chairman of the Press Council of India.)

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