Goal for minorities - I.A Rehman - December 25, 2010

Source : www.dawn.com

ALL tributes to the Quaid-i-Azam rightly end on a call to build Pakistan along the lines suggested by him, and his plans for this state were never more succinctly explained than in his Aug 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly. The urgency of adverting to it is underscored every time any denial of minorities` rights is reported.

This address is more significant than the Quaid`s statements on the goal of the Muslim League movement and the two-nation theory because the latter statements were in the nature of arguments for the creation of Pakistan. It is only in the Aug 11 speech that he defined the mission of Pakistan. This becomes clear if we analyse the way the Quaid`s speech is constructed.

The Quaid begins by emphasising the sovereign status of the legislature (something the authors of the Objectives Resolution ignored). Then he describes the essential features of good governance — protection of the “life, property and religious beliefs” of all citizens, eradication of corruption, black-marketing and nepotism.

After that he declares that “if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people and especially of the masses and the poor”. But this objective cannot be achieved without ensuring that everyone, “no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations”.

Then follows a 500-word (a little less than one-third of the whole address) plea for abolition of distinction between citizens on the basis of belief, and the Quaid is confident that “all the angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community … will vanish”. This part of the address contains a charter of the rights of all citizens of Pakistan, regardless of their belief, colour or creed.

Surprisingly, sufficient attention has not been paid to the Quaid`s concept of a minority and its rights. Why did he say, while mentioning the majority and minority communities, that “even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalese, Madrasees, and so on…”? The only plausible explanation can be that in the Quaid`s view belief is not the only marker to make a group a minority, territorial communities smaller in number than the largest community in a state can also be classified as minorities.

Likewise, smaller sects among the Muslim population of a country, such as Shias in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Sunnis in Iran or Iraq, also fall in the same category and in a caste-ridden society all less numerous castes constitute minorities. This is what the UN declaration on minority rights said more than 40 years later. it is a political issue

Like other formulations in the Aug 11 address this concept of minorities also revealed consistency in the Quaid`s thought for he had always held that minority rights was a political matter and not a religious one. While speaking on the parliamentary committee`s report on constitutional reform in 1935 he had declared that religion should not be brought into politics and added: “Religion is merely a matter between man and God … this is a question of minorities and ….”

If one follows the Quaid`s line of thinking, and religion is not brought into politics, treatment of the minorities` affairs as a political issue will make life easier for everybody. These affairs will fall into two categories. One category will comprise matters related to religious belief (to which the Quaid referred along with the life and property of all citizens), such as freedom of belief, its practice and preaching and personal laws. In the other category will fall all civil, political, economic and social rights in relation to which a member of a minority community will be treated like any other citizen.

Let`s take a couple of examples. Gulzar Daniel is entitled to admission to the MBA course at the university by virtue of his academic record. If he is treated as a Christian he cannot be admitted because two minority students having higher merit have already been admitted and the university has only two seats for minorities. But if he is treated simply as a Pakistani citizen he will be granted admission because of his high merit among candidates on the general list.

A tradition of treating citizens as Pakistanis with equal rights should have persuaded the government and the people to hail and honour Prof Abdus Salam as a great Pakistani scientist instead of stigmatising him as an Ahmadi. Likewise, if Rana Bhagwandas`s detractors had concentrated on his competence as a judge and not on his being a non-Muslim, the judiciary and the nation as a whole could have been spared the shame and the embarrassment caused by the challenge to his elevation to the Sindh High Court.

If students, teachers, police constables, army officers, doctors, magistrates and offenders are treated as what they are and are not identified by their belief as Muslims, Hindus, Christians and scheduled castes, one of the principal causes of intolerance in Pakistan will disappear. This is precisely what the Quaid-i-Azam meant when he said “the Muslims will cease to be Muslims and Hindus will cease to be Hindus…”.

It could be argued that when a man called Mahesh Bheel goes to a hospital in Badin his name betrays his belief and his vulnerability. This problem of names is the product of the subcontinental Muslims` minority syndrome, as Muslims and non-Muslims have common indigenous names in many Muslim-majority countries. This is one of the “angularities of majority and minority communities” that will vanish only after quite some time.

The plea that citizens would have equal rights, privileges and obligation must not be seen as a design for assimilating the minorities into the majority community. There is no suggestion that they should abandon their temples and churches or personal laws or language or custom, only they will have equal rights as citizens.

Could the Quaid-i-Azam have made his blueprint for the state of Pakistan any clearer? He cannot be blamed for the confusion created by some of his interpreters` subjective inclinations. It has been alleged that Jinnah`s Aug 11 speech is out of sync with his statements before or after independence. This is patently untrue. Equally misleading is the assertion that, “Jinnah`s speech to the Assembly was his sole public statement on the minorities after independence”. There are at least seven references to minorities` equal status in his statements given between October 1947 and March 1948.

True, the Quaid frequently referred to Islamic traditions and values but his plea for a people`s democracy, a sovereign legislature, and minorities` equal status was not in conflict with Islam as he understood it. Six decades after the Aug 11 speech was delivered it remains not only a just option to address the minorities` affairs but also the only way to Pakistan`s rise as a united and forward-looking nation.

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