I set out wanting to write on Women’s Day but then, it turned out Holi falls a day before Women’s Day and some elements in society might not want us to celebrate both. The Punjab University incident is not the first or the last, neither will honour killing, forced or child marriages, lynching in public, or harassment of women and children come to an end just because I write.
A video clip was circulating online today where Hindu students at Punjab University were being attacked, and 15 have been reported injured, allegedly by the IJT (Islami Jamiat Tuleba) for celebrating their festival out doors. The organization however, has not claimed responsibility for the attack as reported here.
It is just an unfortunate event that someone cannot celebrate their own Faith in THEIR OWN Country because it is deemed wrong by a segment of the population. Whereas, it should actually be, and is, by law, criminal to NOT allow people to practice their Faith or celebrate their festivals when they want to.
I often wonder if this quote by Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been used too often, and in its universal and frequent appeal, actually lost its meaning upon the majority of those who read it now.
However, and thankfully, paying heed to the Quaid’s words, in fact, the Pakistan National Assembly has recently passed a resolution to take steps to declare Holi, Diwali and Easter as holidays for minorities in the country as reported by Dawn a few years ago as well.
Just goes to show, we might legislate laws in spirit, but not the will or power to execute them. Nor education or respect for the Law. Hence transgenders, domestic abuse victims, women, differently-abled people, children, Hindus, Christian, Zorastrian, other Faiths might have rights in our country but can’t exercise them.
The Punjab University incident today was followed up with a video clip of The Karachi University where Hindu students were protesting that they are not allowed the freedom to celebrate Holi. How can we, as a nation, expect ourselves to be treated fairly when we cross the border into other countries where Islam is not the dominant Faith when we can’t do the same in our own country?
How can a black person expect to be treated fairly in a dominant White state in the USA, how can a person on a wheelchair expect society to facilitate his needs when the rights of all minorities and/or marginalized groups are, on paper granted by law – as our legal system and constitution advises but, our people, unaware, ignorant, brainwashed into believing hate speech and fearing that their culture, religion or Faith will be stolen from them if they allow others to practice theirs.
Religious intolerance is not the only intolerance taking over our lives & social media feeds
But inanely enough, people blame religion. The problem is not religion but any issue that humans choose to divide rather than unite. When we choose to hate rather than tolerate, accept & celebrate our differences. Be it Black vs White, Russia vs The World, West vs East. We will keep fighting each other unless we have an iron hand ruling us. By ‘we’ I mean all Faiths, cultures, nations, ethnicities.
Those who hold power naturally take control unless the law prevents them from doing so. They also use the law to their own benefit as is witnessed by the countless cases of blasphemy that non Muslims have been accused of in the country. The rate has risen over the past many years. Interestingly, many accused have met a terrible, barbaric fate without even getting a fair trial. Although the law is considered quite harsh by some, and previous governments have sought to change it, they have not met with much success. In this case, the law has given extremist elements reason to validate their actions, which is strange in itself because people quoting the law do not realize they have to let an accused stand trial first and he/she is innocent before proven guilty.
By default, and the harsh truth, many cases have been settled in the streets than in a court of law.
Case in point
So although the law is written in stone, our attitudes and belief systems are not. Hence, in states and cultures where the law is not followed, though written out, is where marginalized communities’ rights are usurped. hence I turn to places like Singapore and Switzerland as prime examples where fines – a simple monetary punishment is imposed on any one not following the law, from a parking ticket to spitting chewing gum on the street. And the law is so strict, that often, one’s citizenship can be at stake if rules are not followed.
Can we ever think of implementing such a code? Not just us, but the world at large. Can we, in fact, accept that a free society is as free as the person who follows all the rules and after that, the law steps in. And that those who execute the law do not have their hands tied?
The Law vs Our Personal belief System
It is not the law but our personal prejudices that urge us to discriminate. We are so insecure about our position in society, as men, as Muslims, as Pakistanis that we feel that sharing our privilege will dilute it. That our generation and values are at the risk of extinction if we so much as allow our children to play with children of another Faith, ethnicity or socio-economic background.
A further video circulated subsequently where the official of a university is questioning why a Hindu student brought a cake to celebrate Holi. I am not aware of the rules of the university, but I question if a Muslim student will be scolded for bringing in a cake on Eid? What should he or she have brought in? Weapons? How else does one celebrate a festival if not with mithai or desserts?
It has been reported subsequently, that a thorough inquiry will be conducted on the Punjab University incident so far and that is a welcome move no doubt.
But I want to tell the Gen Zs who are growing up in this ‘Hate’ Pakistan that it was not like that some years ago.
Our diverse cultures and Faiths were a cause to celebrate. That in all my years at university, I never once heard of a riot breaking up because someone wanted to celebrate Holi. Neither did women have to worry about walking on the streets, or children having multi faith friends in school. Universities might have had student organizations, yes, there were political alliances, but there was also a culture of camaraderie between young men and women from diverse backgrounds and Faiths.
I think and would like to believe there still is.
But the noise on social media makes us believe otherwise. The noise on social media also tends to show us more negative posts than positive, because, by nature, we tend to gravitate towards the sensational and divisive. The noise on social media also serves to divide us, propagate hate and selectively make us act and speak in a manner we wouldn’t if we actually and personally knew the people we were hating about. We pick the one thing that divides us rather than the 10 things that unite us. Because we listen to that one voice who speaks well, convincingly and makes us believe that the truth is what they speak. We often do not consult or do our own research but are happily convinced by someone else whose rhetoric serves to sway us with emotion – often, the wrong emotions!
And that is why women, Hindus, Christians, other Faiths, marginalized communities and ethnicities that are not in positions of power are discriminated against. Because we are often told by a very authoritative influencer who claims to be an authority on the topic, tell us how it is! And we believe him.
Because we seek to divide and rule.
I want to tell the Gen Z’s of today that Hot cross buns on Easter, lights in Diwali, Christmas carols in December and women walking the streets wearing comfortable attire without being called out was not an anomaly but a norm.
I want to tell them that my mother who’s about 70 plus years now walked all the way to University from PECHS and back everyday in a city called Karachi without a mobile phone to let her parents know her whereabouts. That when my Parsi or Christian friend had a birthday, we went and celebrated with them, that when Christmas came, we sung Christmas carols with our Christian community and we also had an annual Milad in school where we recited Naats and sprinkled attar and rose petals. I want to tell them that school and college was about being with friends, and wearing a unform that made us all one and the same.
That We Regress Is Not True
All this on Women’s Day is hard to grasp. That we are regressing or slipping backwards is not true. Because backwards, just a few years ago, was a better, more tolerant, happy world than today – today trusts no one – not even the chowkidar who stands at the school gate. Even he needs to be feared, because, a girl never knows about men. So, better to cover up, speak less, get home before dark and not walk the F9 Park at 8 pm in Islamabad because, good girls know what’s good for them and they stay home.
Oh, and don’t play Holi outdoors, or bring a cake to celebrate the occasion.
But rather than end on a bleak note, I want to tell all the different communities – men, women, children, law makers, and influencers – that the quest for a perfectly just society lies in you. If you want to be respected abroad, if you want to represent your Faith, your gender, your country, then know that it starts from home. The fear of losing your Faith, your power as a man, your position in society, will only come true if you seek to persecute the weak today. Because the weak today will become the strong ones tomorrow, and they will remember – History has seen the women’s movement, the Black movement, the rise and fall of religions and nations. And it has more to do with themselves, their own pitfalls, than an outside force.
So if you want your faith, your beliefs and values to be respected, then be the change you want to see before someone comes around and changes you.
And let that girl enjoy her walk in the park, so your sister is safe tomorrow, let them play Holi in Pakistan today, so that you can celebrate Eid in another culture and country one day – remember it’s their turn today, it can be your turn tomorrow.