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Monday, 13 August 2012

11th August and the Religious Minorities

By Michelle Chaudhry

It was on this day 65 years ago that the Founding father of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave to us - the religious minorities, vision and hope, by assuring us that all religious minorities would enjoy equal rights and complete religious freedom in the State of Pakistan.  

This was emphasized by him in his historic address to the Legislative Assembly on 11th August 1947; and I quote. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”

This was not the first time that Mr Jinnah had expressed equal rights for minorities in Pakistan, similar views were expressed by him in a press conference on 14th July, 1947, in New Delhi when he stated and I quote again “minorities to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their culture. They will be, in all respects, citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed. They will have their rights and privileges and no doubt, along with it goes the obligation of citizenship”

Hence Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisioned a Pakistan where religious equality, justice and the rule of law would prevail.

Pakistan was created to respect human dignity, religious freedom, equality of minorities’ rights, sovereignty of parliament and an independent judiciary. Mr Jinnah did not envision Pakistan to become a theocratic state. He envisioned a country where all citizens would be equal despite difference in religion, sex, color and creed. He wanted a country where religious minorities had complete religious freedom.

However, Mr Jinnah’s dream for Pakistan was short lived and his vision disintegrated with his death, the rights of the religious minorities were neglected, discriminatory laws were implemented by the succeeding governments and military regimes. Non-Muslims have suffered tremendously and are facing discrimination and brutality under the rigidity of these tyrannical laws. Religious minorities have been considered second class citizens, have been discriminated against at every level and are constantly being victimized at the hands of Islamic extremists.

It was not by a fortunate turn of events that the non-Muslims opted for Pakistan. At the time of Partition Mr Jinnah required two crucial votes to secure the homeland called “Pakistan” - the birth of Pakistan hung on two votes.  It was the Christian leaders who came forward and assured Mr Jinnah their support; they played the decisive role and voted in favor of Pakistan. Therefore it was our historic vote that that changed the course of history; Pakistan was created.

We have shed our blood and given sacrifices for this country.
Having pledged complete allegiance to Pakistan not only did we contributed decisively towards its creation but have continued to contribute towards its development. It is undoubtedly a fact that it was the religious minorities, the Christian community in particular, who soon after partition set out to build Pakistan. The Pakistan railways, Customs, Post and Telegraph, Police, Foreign office, Schools, Colleges, Courts of Law, Hospitals, Health and Sanitation (just to name a few) began to take shape, with Pakistani Christians at the rudder.

In the Armed Forces of Pakistan outstanding performances and exceptional levels of professionalism have been attained by the Christian officers. During the two major wars this country has fought it has been the Christian officers who have not only excelled in efficiency but have laid down their lives to defend the country they so deeply loved.

Therefore is equality and justice not our inherent right? 
Today Pakistan stands in the grip of terrorism, sectarian violence, religious intolerance and discrimination, this is not the Pakistan our founding father envisioned, neither is this the Pakistan for which our ancestors laid down their lives.

Despite the dangers, adversities and hardships we have struggled, we face extremely dangerous times. We need support from all those who respect human rights, we need to join hands in order to make an impact on the forces who are responsible for this situation. We need to make our society a tolerant and civilized society. 

A time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices - submit or fight. Today we stand at crossroads; we can either succumb to fundamentalism or fight against it.
We choose to fight, we do not believe in surrendering, we refuse to give in and become victims of religious discrimination.

Despite the adversities and hardships, we must resolve to stand firm, united and committed to strive for our rights, with a strong belief that it is us and only us who can liberate ourselves from the clutches of religious discrimination and attain the status of equal citizens in the country of our birth.
Therefore today every single non-Muslim citizen of Pakistan must commit to strive to create peace, harmony and religious tolerance within our homeland, to attain equal rights for all non – Muslims, to empower our people with confidence, self respect and dignity, in order to not only enable them to live fulfilled, successful and safe lives but to also enable our generations to come.

I cannot talk about 11th August without mentioning two most prominent leaders of the Religious Minorities of Pakistan Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry and Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti. Whose unfaltering belief in Jinnah’s Pakistan brought to the light the historic speech of 11t August 1947. It may be noted here that this speech of the Quaid’s was declared controversial by the succeeding Governments and was removed from all official documents of Pakistan.

It was Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry and Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti who were successful in unearthing this speech and brought it back to light by contacting the Management and Editors of Dawn Newspapers who were the first and the only Newspaper to publish the actual speech of the Qauid’s. Cecil Chaudhry and Shahbaz Bhatti were successful in convincing the Dawn Newspaper Editors who then published this Speech again in its full letter and spirit and are doing it to date. That is how this speech was brought out of the dark annals of history.

Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry a national hero, a highly decorated war veteran, a legend of the Pakistan Air Force, a bold and fearless human rights activist, a beacon of light and inspiration for thousands of Pakistanis lived by the principle of Humanity. He often said “By faith Im a Christian but my religion is Humanity”. He believed in equality, and promoted Jinnah’s Pakistan at every level, where every citizen would have complete religious freedom, equal rights regardless of cast, creed and religion; a complete separation of state from religion. Cecil Chaudhry firmly believed and advocated separation of State from religion. He worked tirelessly to make Pakistan the Pakistan that Jinnah had envisioned.  He launched and led the campaign for the restoration of joint electorates in Pakistan – a landmark achievement indeed.

Till the end of his life he fought for the rights of the downtrodden and marginalized communities in Pakistan.
It was with nothing but an unfaltering belief in “Jinnah’s Pakistan” that Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti left his hometown twenty nine years ago to strive for the rights of minorities, religious harmony and tolerance within communities, to raise a voice for the oppressed, marginalized and the downtrodden. 

He dedicated his entire life to the struggle of the religious minorities of Pakistan; fought against discrimination, intolerance and religious disharmony, he cherished the idea of interfaith harmony, tolerance and equality in a free society, in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities and it is for this vision that he lived and hope to one day see it realized, but if the need ever arose it was this ideal for which he was prepared to die. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was brutally assassinated for speaking out against the misuse of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, hence paying the ultimate price for “Jinnah’s Pakistan”.

Let us then take the legacy of these great men forward and pledge today to make every effort to restore the Quaid’s vision and make Pakistan what he envisioned. We face the future with optimism - religious discrimination and intolerance is not unconquerable. With God’s blessings and our united efforts let’s continue to strive to turn hatred into love, intolerance into tolerance and violence into peace.

I end with the words of Nelson Mandela “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. Our march to freedom is long and difficult, but we stand determined - liberation being our final destination”.

May God bless the white in the Pakistani flag as it continues to enlighten the green!

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