On existing peacefully

Pakistan and India are stuck in a zero-sum game and have not yet been able to escape from the prisoner’s dilemma. A number of armed conflicts, most often indecisive, could not pave the way for a peaceful settlement of dispute over the territory of Kashmir – the bone of contention between the two neighbors.

As a result, this political and military rivalry for the last seven decades has adversely affected societies on both sides of the border. Pakistan has become used to answering religious intolerance with more religion. The clergy rules the street and the version of Islam propagated by it makes society anything but pluralistic.

Similarly, India’s secular values are under threat. India has seen an increase in the activities of vigilante groups lynching minority Muslims in the name of Hindutva. Indoctrination of the people with hyper religiosity results in a population of present-day India and Pakistan that is obsessed with minority-phobia.

While India says it is a secular democracy, citizens hardly enjoy liberal values. Democracy without human rights turns into majoritarianism. This majoritarianism is leading to mass violations of human rights and suppression of free speech in both India and Pakistan. While Pakistanis are always worried about Muslims’ rights on the east of the border, they either do not recognize the problem at all or show little concern when minorities are suppressed at home. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeases Hindu citizens with his political moves of reviving the RSS Hindutva ideology. There is populism everywhere but little democracy, in the spirit of the letter, in the region.

Pakistan, by constitution, is an Islamic republic. Minorities are, however, promised fundamental rights. That promise has vanished into thin air and those rights are now recognized merely on paper. The clergy in Pakistan does not let the air of religious freedom thrive in the country. In general, people abhor secularism for themselves but hope for its continuance in other countries so that the rights of minority Muslims can be protected there.

Muslims in India are worried for the future they see themselves in – of being stripped of their fundamental rights at the hands of the majority Hindu rule. Pakistan has always acted as a theo-democracy in which the clergy has enjoyed shaping public opinion. Following Pakistan, India has seen a surge in making itself a mono-cultural state in which the Hindutva ideology prevails. When nationalism romances with religion, ever-increasing chaos is inevitable. The minority communities become the victims. They suffer the most. Logic and reasoning by the few sane people, in such circumstances, fail against the majority.

Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah was very vocal about the rights of minorities. His August 11, 1947 speech, three days before the independence, laid the foundation stone of their rights. Great speeches in the world are understood with their contextual interpretation. It was not a populist speech but well thought and carefully chosen by Mr. Jinnah as he was addressing the first constituent assembly of Pakistan that was tasked to make the constitution of the newborn nation state.

Jinnah emphasized in the speech, “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” He further said, “You will find that in course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

Moreover, he appointed a Hindu, Jogendra Nath Mandal, as the first law minister of Pakistan. This reflects Jinnah’s hope for a modern and progressive Pakistan in which religion does not interfere with politics. The clergy did not agree to Jinnah’s version of Islam even then.

Jinnah considered Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an otherwise secular Muslim who ended the caliphate, as one of the greatest sons of Islam. He used to call him the greatest musalman of the modern age. What Jinnah hoped for Pakistan was a nation state in which citizens would be free to practise their faiths without forcing it onto others. Contrary to his dreams, Pakistani society has turned into something he outright rejected in united India: absolute power in the hands of the religious majority.

The acts of extremist Muslims give rise to Islamophobia. Islamophobes and intolerant Muslims have one thing in common: both cherry-pick verses of religious texts and argue that Islam has a space for right-wing extremism. The word Ram was once synonymous with love and compassion in India. Now, it has become a slogan of oppression against its Muslim community. The simplest path to glory now is to kill someone in the name of religion in the two countries. Empathy is lost.

Religion is generally considered an ascribed status in South Asia. The ascribed status with respect to religion in Pakistan and with respect to caste and religion in India may hound an individual for lifetime. Being born in a household practising a certain belief should not be a cause of worry for anyone in a civilized world of nation-states.

Both Pakistani and Indian societies have been radicalized to shun the notion of peacefully co-existing with the minorities. People on both sides of the border think minorities are in danger at the other side. Yet, they choose to forget protecting them at home. Pakistan wants to see Muslims in India enjoying the freedom and India expects the same from Pakistan for better treatment of minorities. Quid pro quo should be at the heart of the treatment of minority communities in both countries. And values praised abroad should not be abhorred at home.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

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