Sunday September 23, 2018
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Holi in Pakistan: Why declaring public holiday is not enough

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Holi
Image source: wordpress.com

By Faraz Talat

The adoption of a resolution in the National Assembly proposing public holidays on Diwali, Easter, and Holi in Pakistan has been met with much enthusiasm among our progressive citizens.

In a country, where even symbolic gestures of goodwill towards the minorities are fought tooth and nail by the political right, these small victories are dearly cherished.

One hopes not to dampen our spirits too much, but among a list of concerns about the well-being of minorities in Pakistan, how significant is the need for public holidays on Holi and Easter?

To say that you want minorities to have their rights, but not a secular structure is to say that you want minorities to have their equal treatment as long as they don’t get in the way of your first-class citizenship.

2016 has been a good year for Pakistan:

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won another Oscar, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif officially addressed the problem of honor killings, and the need for action against it.

Shahbaz Taseer was recovered.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act was passed.

This was followed by the resolution to declare special public holidays for minorities’ festivals. Note that the government has not yet issued a notification concerning the actual declaration of these holidays, although Sindh has taken the liberty to declare March 24 a public holiday anyway.

The backlash to these events is nothing to sneeze at.

“Enemies want the country to become a secular and liberal state,” said Hafiz Saeed, as 35 religious parties gathered in Mansoora to not only protest the Protection of Women Act, but issue an official deadline of March 27 for it to be withdrawn.

However, these moves have found strange defenders across the aisle.

In an episode of NewsEye with Meher Bukhari, scholar and televangelist Aamir Liaquat sarcastically said:

We say that there’s democracy in Pakistan. Then a bill is presented in the Assembly, which is passed in a democratic manner. And then they (the coalition of religious parties) threaten the institution with a deadline (for amendment), saying we’ll do this and that if you don’t listen to us. Okay, fine! Hand everything over to them! Make Pakistan a theocratic state! Let’s end this debate once and for all.

Nationalist social media icon Hamza Ali Abbasi approved public holidays on Holi, Easter and Diwali, but did so by assuring his followers that the move had nothing to do with secularism.

Mr Abbasi often calls for the protection of minority rights, while simultaneously criticizing secular reforms.

Mr Aamir Liaquat’s remarks are fascinating, in the way that they inadvertently defend secular democratic liberties — which we don’t have.

Meanwhile, political commentators like Abbasi don’t seem to recognize how essential secular reforms are to the cause of equal rights for minorities.

The argument that an Islamic system ensures rights to women and minorities may well be true, but that’s not the point.

The point is the political entitlement of the Muslim majority, particularly men, over all other groups.

To say that you want minorities to have their rights, but not a secular structure is to say that you want minorities to have their equal treatment as long as they don’t get in the way of your ideological preferences, and your first-class citizenship.

It is to say you may have your rights and security, but my group still gets to be the one in total control of that decision. My race, religion, caste, or gender gets to stay on the pedestal and yours doesn’t. This country is basically ours, but not to worry — you’ll find us to be quite hospitable!

To counter this mindset of entitlement we need systemic reforms to put us on the path of equality for marginalized communities.

Winning social liberal skirmishes is great, but they must not distract us from the mountain we are meant to climb and a larger egalitarian movement we’re hoping to energize.

A bill to give a woman a right to wear mascara bears little relevance in a system where women are denied reproductive rights, equal wages and career safety.

It is a state system adorned with laws that target religious minorities and deny them marriage licenses; a country where the deck is stacked against the non-Muslim minorities and their religious preferences, in the legislature; a country where an entire Christian community has to flee Mehrabadi in terror when a single person is accused of blasphemy; a state where forced conversions and denial of job opportunities on the basis of religion, are commonplace.

In such a system, a public holiday to squirt colored water at one another is, at best, a humble consolation prize.

Source: DAWN

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The Other Side of “Hindu Pakistan”

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province

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Hinduism
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Sagarneel Sinha

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country. BJP didn’t let the opportunity go by launching a scathing attack on Tharoor and his party for insulting Hindus and Indian democracy, forcing the Congress party to distance itself from its own MP’s comment. Only one year is left for the next general elections and in a politically polarised environment such comments serve as masala for political battles where perception is an important factor among the electorates.

Actually, Tharoor, through his statement, is trying to convey that “India may become a
fundamentalist state just like its neighbour — Pakistan”. Tharoor is a shrewd politician and his remarks are mainly for political gains. The comments refer to our neighbour going to polls on 25 th of this month which has a long history of ignoring minorities where the state institutions serve as a tool for glorifying the religious majority bloc and ridiculing the minorities. This compelled me to ponder about the participation of the Hindus — the largest minority bloc of the country, in the upcoming polls.

There are total 37 reserved seats for minorities in Pakistan — 10 in the National Assembly
(Lower House), 4 in the Senate (Upper House) and 23 in various state legislatures — 9 in the Sindh assembly, 8 in Punjab and 3 each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistani Hindus, like other minorities have the dual voting rights in principle. But the reality is they have no rights to vote for their own representatives as the seats are reserved — means the distribution of these seats are at the discretion of parties’ leadership. Practically speaking, these reserved seats are meant for political parties not for minorities. In case of general seats, it is almost impossible for a Hindu candidate to win until and unless supported by the mainstream parties of the country. The bitter truth is — the mainstream parties have always ignored the Hindus by hesitating to field them from general seats. In 2013, only one Hindu candidate — Mahesh Kumar from the Tharparkar district won from a general seat, also became the only minority candidate to make it to the National Assembly from a general seat. This time too, he is nominated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — a major centre-left party of Pakistan. However, there are no other Hindu candidates for a general seat from the two other significant centre-right parties — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI). Although, there is a Hindu candidate named Sanjay Berwani from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — a Karachi (capital of Sindh province) based secular centrist party of Pakistan.

Shashi_tharoor
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is
elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country.

The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures. It means that despite the state’s hostile policies, Hindus have been able to remain stable in a highly Islamist polarised society. 90% of the Hindu population of the country lives in the Sindh province. Hindu population in Umerkot,Tharparkar and Mirpur Khas districts of the Sindh province stands at 49%, 46% and 33% respectively — making them the only three substantial Hindu districts of the country. The three districts have 5 National Assembly and 13 Provincial seats. However, Hindus have never well represented from these seats.

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province. Many of them belong to the Schedule caste — the Dalit community. A recent report based on Pakistan Election Commission’s data says that out of 2.5 lakh women of Tharparkar district, around 2 lakh of them are not included in the electoral list — means that they are not entitled to vote for the upcoming general elections. All over the country, there are about 1.21 crore women voters who will not be able to vote in the elections. The reason is the lack of an identity card. Most of them are poor who are unable to pay the expenses required for an identity card. This has made difficult for independent Hindu Dalit candidates like Sunita Parmar and Tulsi Balani as most of their supporters will not be voting in the upcoming polls. In Tharparkar district, around 33% percent are the Hindu Dalits — brushed aside by the mainstream parties. The reserved seat candidates are based on party nominations, where mainly the upper caste Hindus are preferred. Radha Bheel, a first time contestant and the chairperson of Dalit Suhaag Tehreek (DST), a Dalit organisation, says that the fight is for the rights of the lower socio-economic class and scheduled castes. Sunita, Tulsi, Radha and the other independent Hindu candidates know
that the possibility of winning from the general seats is bleak but for them the contest is for their own identity — an identity never recognised by the political parties and the establishment of Pakistan.