Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blogging for Minority Rights

Book recommendation: Minority Rights: Between Diversity and Community (Key Concepts)

(Comments at Pakistan's first Social Media Conference - Yasser Latif Hamdani, Advocate High Courts of Pakistan)

The need for social activism for minority rights in Pakistan.
·         A society that marginalizes groups of its citizens ultimately turns in on itself
·         Rising tide of extremism in Pakistan is directly linked to increased discrimination against minorities in Pakistan
·         Discrimination against minorities goes against the basic principle on which Pakistan was demanded: a permanent majority cannot by sheer numbers oppress and dominate a permanent minority.
Who constitutes a minority in Pakistan?
·         Religious Minorities
·         Sectarian Minorities
·         Ethnic Minorities

·         Religious Minorities
o   Christians
o   Ahmadis
o   Hindus
o   Sikhs
o   Bahais
o   Non-Religious/Atheist

·         Sectarian Minorities
o   Shia
o   Ismaili
o   Bohra
o   Zikris

·         Ethnic Minorities
o   Linguistic minorities
§  Sindhi
§  Pushto
§  Baloch
o   Minority groups within linguistic groups
§  Seraiki
§  Brahvi
§  Hindko
§  Darri
 National neglect and Apathy towards (religious) minority groups
·         Underreporting of minorities in the census
·         National neglect and apathy towards minorities in Pakistan
o   Deafening silence in popular national electronic media and mainstream media about the plight of minorities and denial of their civil rights. On the contrary anchors often engage hate speech and hate mongering vis a vis non-Muslims. Key Example: Media’s treatment of the attacks on Ahmadi “places of worship” (one cannot under law call them Mosques but that is another story).
o   How many times have you said “we are all Muslims in Pakistan” or “Suicide bombers attacking Pakistani cities are killing Muslims”
o   The incident of the Finance Minister in Punjab and the objection of the ruling party to a Christian presenting the budget
o   Auqaaf Department of Punjab Government patronizing religious and sectarian organizations that thrive on anti-minority and reactionary rhetoric.
o   The need to revisit our national narrative. Jinnah was a triple minority in British India. When Pakistan was founded, Jinnah said “a country founded on a minority demand cannot be unmindful of its minorities.”
·         Biased Textbooks
o   Little or no reference to the other.
o   Islam and in particular Sunni Islam identified as the main
·         Discriminatory Laws
o   298 C
o   295 C
o   Bar on president/prime minister being non-Muslims
o   Hafiz-e-Qurans given extra marks in SSC exams allowing them a discriminatory and unconstitutional advantage entering into medical and engineering colleges over non-Muslims.   
Role of the new media, social media and blogs:
·         Apathy by mainstream media to minorities requires that new media steps up to the plate
o   Highlighting the contribution of minorities to Pakistan, its creation, its progress
§  Celebrating heroes like Zafrulla Khan – key Pakistan Movement figure, Pakistan’s first foreign minister and an international figure- and Dr. Abdus Salaam, Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate. Example: My article on Zafrulla Khan published on Pakteahouse and Pakistaniat. This article attracted hundreds of comments and generated a debate on whether an Ahmadi’s contribution to Pakistan ought to be denied.
§  Highlighting key facts – hidden from public and kept out of national curriculum- such as the fact that Pakistan’s first national anthem was written by a Hindu Urdu Poet, Jagganath Azad, and Pakistan’s first Law Minister was a Hindu who was ultimately driven out of Pakistan by an increasingly intolerant polity. Pakteahouse has routinely covered these issues as have other blogs and it has led to a lively, sometimes unruly, exchanges.
§  Minorities as educators, writers, doctors, soldiers: Highlighting the example of people like Ardeshir Cowasjee, Bapsi Sidhwa, the state of the art hospital in Rabwah, Cecil Chaudhry, Simon Samson Sharaf.
§  Highlighting minorities’ festivals such as Holi, Easter, Christmas etc.

o   Highlighting the plight of minorities and legal discrimination against them as citizens
§  Discrimination in citizenship. A Non-Muslim cannot aspire to become the president or prime minister in Pakistan. While everyone was celebrating the “restoration” of the Constitution of 1973 through 18th Amendment, we at PTH constantly highlighted the fact that 18tH Amendment closed the door on non-muslims aspiring to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
§  Discrimination against Ahmadis – worship outlawed, fundamental rights curtailed by discriminatory legislation and conservative judiciary. Pakteahouse has been in the forefront of highlighting this indefensible discrimination against Ahmadis.

o   Organising, mobilizing the minorities
§  Creating awareness about the plight of minorities and documenting outrages
§  Creating a platform for minorities to organize and mobilize around issues that directly affect them.

Preliminary Comments:
Thank you for asking me to speak on a topic that I feel is at the crux of our current state of chaos ie a state that deliberately, consciously marginalises groups of people ends up hurting its own national discourse. This is why minorities is a cause very close to my heart. It is also a timely issue. Pakistan this year lost two of the cause's staunchest stalwarts, Shaheed Salman Taseer and Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti.  I think we owe a debt of gratitude to those two great men for laying down their lives for freedom.
We must remember that Jinnah was a triple minority in British India, being an Ismaili-born Shia Khoja Muslim. He promised that Pakistan - being a state formed out of a minority's demand could not be unmindful of its minorities.

Yet in Pakistan today I consider myself a triple minority, an agnostic child of a marriage between an Ahmadi and a Shia. In a country where connections and family backgrounds matter more than merit, I am also part of a fourth minority - the urban middle class, which has limited - if any- opportunity to play a role politically through existing power structures and groupings but which is aware enough to care and express through activism those political impulses which move us.
This is where internet assumes significance and blogging in particular. It is a great leveller for the excluded. Today the voice of the urban educated classes who do not have a ghost of a chance to make it to any national legislature have a voice and a forum to express their aspirations. Granted that these aspirations are not the most positive every time but change is evolutionary. We are on the threshold of a paradigm shift - today when we are online the world is online with us. The brave new world is out there in cyberspace.
The thing with the internet is that it is a multiplier. It is unstoppable. When you put an idea out there it gets replicated. 10 years ago it was just me and a handful of other people harping about religious minorities in Pakistan. Now the number has multiplied manifolds. It has also given voice to those marginalised groups to jump into the arena themselves.
The minorities are organising finally. A new sense of hope and vigor has emerged. Facebook has a lot to do with it. Far from it that I make any reference to that jokers' revolution ie the Arab Spring... but a much more substantial change is under way. Some of the results of this awareness will be apparent in the census this year.

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