Tolerant Pakistan | Ramesh Kumar

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Tolerant Pakistan | Ramesh Kumar latest column in The News

There is a direct link between peace and prosperity of any society. This is why all human societies – from ancient Greek empires to today’s modern democratic countries – focus on building a peaceful environment based on the golden principles of tolerance, harmony and social justice.

There are many historical and religious references that enunciate this point. After 15 years of extensive fighting, the ancient Greek empires of Medes and Lydia finally signed a peace treaty in 585 BC. Various ancient philosophers including Aristotle, Socrates, Chanakya, Confucius and Plato had expressed their views in support of peace and prosperity.

The Bible also conveys the message of humanity and love for all. A number of saints in the Subcontinent spent their entire lives spreading the message of love across the region. According to Jainism, protecting all forms of life – a human being, an animal, a plant or an insect – is one of the highest forms of charity a person can make to society. Islam is known as the religion of peace where the Prophet (pbuh) – declared to be a ‘mercy to the universe’ – urged people to protect the rights of all citizens regardless of their religion and gender. The Charter of Madina is the most significant document that formed the basis of a multi-religious Muslim state in Madina.

I believe that all religions teach their followers to respect other religions. Tolerance does not mean agreeing with other people, it means disagreeing with them in a respectful manner. Unfortunately, intolerance at national and international levels is becoming rampant in societies today.

The recent horrific murder of Mashal Khan at a higher education institute in Mardan, the aggressive attitude shown in parliament, the rise of Islamophobia in the West and the negative discriminatory politics in many countries are just some examples of rising intolerance in the world. In our country, the ongoing trend of killing other human beings must be discouraged and practical steps to avoid the misuse of blasphemy laws need to be taken.

People must develop strong bonds with other people on the basis of humanity. Issuing press statements or marking and celebrating various ‘world days’ are not enough. Parents and teachers must follow certain principles for the character-building of their children. Moreover, since political leaders often serve as role models and the media often guides peoples’ views, both of them should preach ethical values for the betterment of society.

In a democratic setup, the majority rules but the rights of the minorities must also be protected. Pakistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual society. The purpose of having a separate country, according to Quaid-e-Azam, was to establish a welfare state where all citizens could spend their lives according to their own lifestyles. However, unfortunately, the state has failed to implement this in letter and spirit in running the affairs of the country.

We have to admit that state policies of the past have failed to deliver positive outcomes. We should learn from our mistakes and define better strategies for the future. We must understand and chalk out reasons for the lack of tolerance, humanity and harmony in our society.

A democratic state is one where all citizens are treated equally. But, in Sindh, a unanimously passed bill that discourages forced conversions fails to become the law because of extremist pressure groups. All the hate mongers who make religion ‘a weapon to kill’ forget that respect for other religions is common in all religions.

In the recent Mashal Khan murder case, the murderers stated that the actual reason for killing the man was not blasphemy, but ideological differences. Based on my arguments, the Supreme Court issued a detailed historical decision for the protection of the rights of minorities on June 19, 2014, but I do not find its implementation status satisfactory. Even till today, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has failed to remove hate material from its curriculum. The situation in other provinces does not appear to be so hopeful either. Hundreds of citizens have lost their lives due to religious intolerance. Many have been forced to hide their religious affiliations to save their lives.

Given that work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is under way and Gen (r) Raheel Sharif has been appointed as the chief of the Islamic Military Alliance, Pakistan is going to play a leading role on the international arena. This new and significant role that the country is now set to play will require all the outdated past policies to be reviewed for the best interest of society.

Finally, I would also like to appeal to the media, parliamentarians and civil society to join hands to promote a society that is free from hate, intolerance and social evils. We need to project a positive image of our beloved country. We need to show the world that we are a civilised democratic society. The image of a peaceful and ‘tolerant Pakistan’ will ultimately bring prosperity to citizens throughout the country.

The writer is a member of the National
Assembly and patron-in-chief of the
Pakistan Hindu Council.g