National Minorities Day is being observed across the country today to safeguard the fundamental rights of minority groups and acknowledge their contribution towards national development.
On August 11, 1947, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah addressed the Constituent Assembly and provided a concrete roadmap for the new Muslim-majority state. He outlined the state’s policy towards minorities in the following words: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. Jinnah declared that all Pakistani citizens are equal. His address to the Constituent Assembly is considered to be one of the best speeches in world history, and one which emphasises the need for tolerance and national harmony.
Jinnah also persuaded many non-Muslim residents to make Pakistan their home. Following his historic speech on August 11, hundreds of Hindu families postponed their plans to migrate. As a result, Pakistan is still considered to be a sacred homeland – the ‘Dharti Mata’ – in the eyes of Pakistan’s patriotic Hindu community.
The basic motive for the creation of Pakistan on the basis of the golden values of tolerance, equality and peace was, no doubt, to form an independent state for Muslims. Without venturing into the debate about whether it was meant to be a secular state or an Islamic one, we can argue that Quaid-e-Azam had a positive approach about the active role of non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan. The inclusion of non-Muslim members, such as Jogendra Nath Mandal, in his cabinet was a clear sign that Quaid-e-Azam wanted to provide equal rights and opportunities to all the communities living in the Muslim-majority nation. Jinnah wanted everyone to work diligently to make Pakistan a great nation.
Only a few people know that the first national anthem of Pakistan was composed by a renowned Hindu poet Jagannath Azad on the personal instructions of none other than Quaid-e-Azam himself. The national anthem was broadcasted on Radio Pakistan on August 14, 1947 and used officially for a period of one-and-a-half years. It was replaced after the demise of Quaid-e-Azam in 1948. It is unfortunate that neither Quaid-e-Azam’s complete speech nor the national anthem that was composed by Jagannath Azad is available in the archives of Radio Pakistan.
At the time of Independence, non-Muslims in Pakistan comprised nearly one-fourth (around 23 percent) of the total population. According to the government’s official record, they now constitute three percent of the population. Various independent surveys carried out by the Pakistan Hindu Council and other NGOs reveal that non-Muslims actually constitute between five and six percent of the current population. In its recent report, the Election Commission of Pakistan highlighted that the Hindu community constitutes 50 percent of the total non-Muslim vote bank and thus enjoys a dominant position.
Minorities have made valuable contributions in all fields of life, including education, health, politics, literature, science and arts. Unfortunately, they have not received due credit. General Ziaul Haq had adopted policies of religious intolerance and extremism, which left many minorities in a disadvantaged position. Even in the curriculum, non-Muslims are portrayed as anti-state villains.
This has transformed Pakistan into a country where religious minorities live in an atmosphere of fear and panic. Attacks on their places of worship, the abduction of minor Hindu girls and forced conversions are some of the tactics used against minorities. Those who carry out such acts in the name of religion must not forget that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) signed peace treaties with non-Muslim citizens. According to the Charter of Madina, the non-Muslims were guaranteed the same political, religious and cultural rights as Muslims.
On National Minorities Day, the government should implement workable and concrete policies to safeguard minority communities and acknowledge their role in ensuring the betterment of society. I have repeatedly claimed that the word ‘minorities’ represents a narrow mindset and it is better to use the term ‘non-Muslims’ as per official parlance.
There is also a misconception about our national flag. Normally, it is believed that the green colour in the Pakistani flag represents Muslims while the white colour stands for minorities. It is unfair to divide our national flag on the basis of discrimination. In fact, the green in our flag reflects prosperity, ambition and harmony while the white colour relates to peace for all citizens.
Announcing national annual awards for minorities, ensuring their active involvement in state affairs and providing opportunities to capable minority officials to head strategic institutions could bring positive results on national and international level. The complete speech of Quaid-e-Azam on August 11 must be made a part of the school curriculum.
Non-Muslims must have the right to dual voting to appoint representatives in parliament. Similarly, citizens must show a commitment to promote national and interfaith harmony during routine dealings.
The writer is a member of the National
Assembly and patron-in-chief of the
Pakistan Hindu Council.