On the eve of Pakistan’s 65th anniversary of independence, religious and ethnic unrest is the order of the day. In this predominantly Muslim country, religious minority groups are chafing under the label, which they say suggests the diminishing of their communities. “I hate being called a minority. We need a new face for the country, which is presently passing through very difficult times,” says Victor Azariah, secretary general of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan. Azariah made his comments during a National Minority Day gathering of more than 700 people in Lahore over the weekend. It was a busy weekend for minorities. I attended several events, all of which had one major talking point: Hindus are quitting Pakistan. Local news media were abuzz last week after a group of 250 Hindus immigrated en masse to India. I spoke with Ramesh Kumar, patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council, following an emergency press conference in Karachi, where he demanded new pro-minority legislation. “Today 310 will leave. They have sold their properties and are leaving in tears,” he said. “We demand laws against forced conversion of our girls, biased school syllabuses and blasphemy laws. The exodus will continue until the growing uncertainty is addressed. Even now 11 of our traders have been kidnapped for ransom in rural Sindh province,” Kumar said. “Every month 10 middle class Hindu families are leaving the country,” added Samson Salamat, deputy convener of the Peace and Tolerance Alliance, which staged a half-hour demonstration in front of the Press Club on Saturday. Christians in Lahore also protested on the weekend over persecution of minority communities. Politicians and clerics have leveled criticisms at the media, saying it has contributed to creating a “wrong perception” about the challenges facing minority communities. In a recent meeting, an official from the Ministry of Interior said media reports have been based on mere speculation that has created hype at local and international levels. Nonetheless, the ministry has ordered a federal investigation into complaints made by Hindus. So the blame game continues, and people of all faiths could have gathered in unity to commemorate Independence Day if our nation’s leaders had not continued to ignore the most vulnerable sections of our society. Attributing their plight to the overall problems of law and order is to miss the point. We are increasingly losing native residents, people who were neither invaders nor terrorists. There is one hope. Despite all its prejudiced legislation and ever increasing financial and energy crises, Pakistan could survive and prosper as a welfare state simply by omitting a paragraph from one article. “Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed”, states a section of Article 2- A of the constitution. The article, inculcated in 1949 two years after separation from India through a resolution, branded the country as a theocratic state. Military regimes later broadened this concept to dangerous levels in a bid to prolong control. This resulted in a society that frantically became hard line without understanding the aesthetic sense of Islam. Love became madness and followers became guardians. Hindus may have given up on Pakistan but our elected representatives should not give up on Pakistanis, irrespective of their religion and culture. Every time I see shopkeepers selling bundles of national flags at this time of the year, the vertical white stripe (which represents non-Muslims) at the hoist side seems thinner. Eliminating Hindus means deforming the national flag. Pakistan became an Islamic republic in 1956. The events happening today prove it was a bad decision. Perhaps our survival lies in getting back to the original idea for which Pakistan was created. Resurrecting its original name can be a beginning. Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore
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