Monday, September 17, 2012

What Does the White Band in Our Flag Mean?

Being a minority of any persuasion is a trying time in a persons life. Since childhood our instinct is to blend in, to be part of a larger whole. We don't  want to be isolated by what makes us different, rather everyone wants to be included and accepted by what makes us similar. But still, as society dictates, some among us are unique--unique enough to warrant a classification of their own by virtue of beliefs, status or disabilities. These groups are the most vulnerable in any society simply because of statistics--they are in a minority. And in a progressive and humane world all vulnerabilities demand protection.

As elementary school children we were taught that the Pakistani flag is symbolic. The green represents the Muslim majority and the white represents the minority faiths. The crescent and the five rayed star represent progress, light and knowledge. Since  Pakistan was wrested away from a formidable power against monumental odds to protect the rights of the then Indian religious minority, the muslims, one would think that all minorities in Pakistan would be protected...especially if we specifically have a white band in our flag to remind us of our fight, our promise and obligation. Especially that!

While Islam is the state religion, article 33 of the Constitution of Pakistan declares that ‘the state shall discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.’  Amendments made to the Pakistan Penal Code in 1986 during the Zia regime and the “Islamization” of the country strengthened the blasphemy laws and suddenly the 3% of the Pakistani population who were not Muslims--but still law-abiding Pakistani citizens--found themselves in dire straits. Since then around 4000 cases have been reported and around 1000 of them have been registered. The amazing statistic is that half of these cases are against non-muslims who make up only three percent of the population. According to Rizwan Paul, Executive Director of LFA ( Life For All),  “around 80 per cent of all these cases have been registered in only eight districts of central Punjab -- Lahore, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Gujrat and Kasur”. This is not where it ends.  Around 30 of the accused were horrifically killed by crazed, puritanical mobs, some even while in police custody.

I am not trying to contest or even debate the blasphemy laws. My gripe is with the implementation and blatant abuse of these laws by misguided people with no knowledge, no authority and, most of all, no compassion in their hearts. People should not be living in fear of laws that are meant as protection and as a deterrent to exploitations. The common concept is that anyone, at any time can point a finger and yell “blasphemer” and the witch hunt begins. Some instances rivalling those in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600 where all you needed to burn someone at the stake was an accuser. Neighbors live in fear of neighbors. Accusations are often related to personal grievances, no evidence or witnesses are needed, all you need is a grudge and a cold heart.

But what of the fear of Allah? What about the consequences of bearing false witness? I hope these accusers have their fact sheets in order on the Day of Judgement when we all will have to explain our actions--those who caused such tragedies and those who stood by. And even if one person is accused wrongly and even if one person bore false witness, there will be consequences. Contrary to popular belief, we are all Allah’s creatures regardless of our caste, creed or religion!

Then we hear of  an 11 year old sufferer of Down Syndrome thrown in jail for an act that she may or may not have committed and, if she did commit the act, may not be aware of the gravity and implications of it. We learn that a young doctor  was accused because he tossed aside a card with the name of a medical representative on it and we wonder who protects them? Allah has promised that he will protect the Quran yet we take it upon ourselves to do the job and let misguided fervor throw us back into the middle-ages. On the other hand, we totally ignored the task that Allah has charged us protect those who cannot protect themselves. I hope that as a society we will have a comprehensive answer for that interrogation or a lot of us will be unpleasantly surprised when we end up in a place much warmer than we expected!  

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