It turns out this Eid, many people of Pakistan didn’t just have their hands full with animals and qurbani or other festive chores. A report in Dawn claimed that many also found the time to keep the police on their toes and ensure the “wrong” kind of people did not celebrate Eid.

In at least two such complaints, the police were told to make sure the Ahmadi community did not sacrifice animals, which is a ritual for Muslims. Appare­ntly, FIRs were also registered against those who did not heed the warnings duly issued by the police.

This is a story which made it to the papers for usually our treatment of this community is so routine that it rarely makes it to the press. Indeed, stories of the desecration of their graves or other forms of harassment usually pass without remark.

Our success in othering our own countrymen, especially on the basis of religion or even sectarian differences, is an example of continuity in policy that perhaps is unmatched; even our obsession with real estate came much later. Proof of this can be found in the barrage of news stories which simply tell of events such as the kidnapping or conversion of Hindu girls or the targeted killings of Sikhs.

What life for anyone of our minorities is like, their day-to-day existence, we never really learn of. The “other” simply exists. There is little else to be aspired to. Only perhaps in death or some extreme hardship are they worthy of some sympathy.

This is one area, where perhaps India has caught up with us, despite our completely different trajectories in other areas where our neighbour is seen as an economic powerhouse being courted by the world.

The land which once celebrated Amar Akbar Anthony is now one where stories of minorities being mistreated have become common. Just recently, two such men were brutally beaten on the suspicion of carrying beef; while one of them has since died, the other was said to be in hospital with brain injury.

Our journey here has been rather different: with the Muslim faith providing the main ideological bulwark for this country, it is little wonder majoritarianism was pushed in one form or the other from the first day in Pakistan, the Aug 11 speech notwithstanding.

Then, of course, the arrival of Ziaul Haq was simply the cherry on top, in more ways than one. His reign also absolved the rest of us of any responsibility or blame for the state of affairs, for it was far easier to put all the horrors of religious intolerance at his door.

India, on the other hand, opted for a secular, more encompassing approach to unite a more diverse society. But that appears to be a lifetime ago now. Amar Akbar Anthony has given way to Padmavat. While our Islamisation project was a top-down affair from day one, India has followed suit only recently – but the change has come, decisively, or so say some.

Now it seems, the two neighbours are hurtling down the same path.

At the Wagah-Attari border. Credit: Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From a distance, it doesn’t seem this journey has any roadblocks or turns which can take us in different directions. At home, there appears to be little in our politics to suggest any party or government can chart a different course; one simply has to examine the legislative record of the Punjab Assembly where every conservative and regressive law has garnered – across the aisle – consensus to understand this. From the little I hear of our next-door neighbour, few feel that even if a different government were to be elected, it would lead to big changes on the issue of tolerance.

As an aside (it is called an “aside” because little matters in comparison to the issue of citizens being in danger or facing humiliation simply for their faith into which they were born), this obsession with majoritarianism manifests in other ways as well. Consider that in Pakistan, while we are vocal about state-imposed censorship, we rarely speak of how much we self-censor when it comes to issues related to religion.

So much so that few are willing to speak up for cases such as Junaid Hafeez’s and the need for reform in our laws, which lead to the needless and cruel incarceration of people such as him. It is far easier and safer to keep silent than speak up.

However, personally what intrigues me is not how we got here but how significant this period may turn out to be in the history of the region. After all, the subcontinent has always appeared to be a region far too populous and far too diverse to be too homogenous in terms of language, culture or religion. None of its rulers were able to impose a specific religion on the area, and to date, some of the most admired monarchs tend to be the ones who celebrated the diversity of the land.

Not just that, this was also a land which became home to so many who came from afar (for different reasons) and settled here, never to return – or to push out the locals. This doesn’t only include those who came with raiding armies such as the Mughals.

Consider the Parsi community, which escaped persecution in their homeland of Iran to settle in the subcontinent. How generous and tolerant a culture or land it must have been for a persecuted community to settle here and call it home. It is a story that never fails to make me a wee teary-eyed, especially at present. Was it the only such example of the land providing refuge and a home to those who needed it? And what was it about the subcontinent that people looking for a new start as well as safety were willing to risk the journey here?

But today that is just history. History that we are not even proud of, for we would rather write or squabble over the wars and the invasions that comprise the official story of this land.

The writer is a journalist.

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