As Pakistan marked 73 years of independence this month, absent from the overall narrative surrounding the day was the role of minorities in the country’s creation. The masses, particularly the bulging younger generations, need to be made aware how non-Muslims provided much-needed support to Muslims of United India and stood with the country’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
One of the first shows of solidarity by minorities was on Dec 22, 1939, when Muslims resigned from Congress ministries and Jinnah directed to celebrate Youm-e-Nijaat (Salvation Day) to protest the discriminatory behaviour of Congress. The day was also observed by Parsis and representatives of scheduled caste Hindus who supported Jinnah’s stand. Living on the peripheries, scheduled caste Hindus did not have high expectations of superior caste Hindus of India.
The Christian community joined Pakistan by choice as well, with some even migrating from India. This decision was taken on behalf of over 500,000 Punjabi Christians by Christian leaders of the Muslim League. Punjab Assembly Speaker SP Singha, Ralia Ram and Fazal Elahi represented Christians before Radcliffe’s Boundary Awards in June 1947 and supported inclusion of the province in Pakistan.
At the time of Partition, Christians opposed the partition of the Punjab and demanded that the whole of Punjab be included in Pakistan.
The historical meeting on June 23, 1947 which decided the fate of United Punjab is another significant episode in this saga. Chaired by Singha, a renowned Christian leader and last speaker of the United Punjab Legislative Assembly and also the first speaker of West Punjab Legislative Assembly after 1947, when the members voted on the resolution, the three Christian members voted for Pakistan and Singha used his special vote as speaker to decide in Pakistan’s favour.
Historian Ayesha Jalal, in her book ‘Self and Sovereignty’, quotes Singha who said: “They (the Christians) trust the Muslim more. In their dress, poor economic status and religious beliefs, Christians in the Punjab were closer to the Muslims. The widespread practice of chhut or untouchability against Christians was ‘a great sore in their hearts’ and they had ‘suffered a lot from social prejudices’.” In fact, it was the support of Christians that helped Pakistan claim many crucial parts of United Punjab.
Jogendranath Mandal, a representative of scheduled caste Hindus, was another leader who laid the foundations of Pakistan. He also served as the country’s first minister of law and labour, and was also the second minister of Commonwealth and Kashmir Affairs. Jogendranath had extended his support to the nascent country, hoping that scheduled castes would get respect and live a suitable life in Pakistan.
Similarly, Sir Victor Turner was one of the central Christian leaders in the Pakistan Movement who also served as the first finance secretary of Pakistan and chairman of the Central Board of Revenue.
Furthermore, the first national anthem of Pakistan was composed by Hindu poet Jagannath Azad on Jinnah’s personal wish. It was broadcast on Radio Pakistan on August 14, 1947 and was officially used during the first one-and-a-half years.
Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta, who belonged to the Parsi community, was the first elected mayor of Karachi and known as the ‘maker of modern Karachi’. He played a significant role in the rehabilitation of refugees migrating to the megacity.
Another act of minorities’ generosity towards Muslims and their new nation, among many others, was when Christians set up the United Christian Hospital in Lahore to accommodate and treat Muslims coming from the other side of the newly-drawn border.
Such facts need to be taught and displayed prominently so the growing tide of religious intolerance is stemmed and minorities can feel safe and as equal citizens of Pakistan.