Since the past decade, August 11 is observed across Pakistan as the National Minorities Day. The idea is to assure the minorities of the country that they are equal citizens of Pakistan. The country’s minorities — said to be nearly four percent of the total population — mark the day by holding various events, including seminars and social gatherings. They also recall the vision of the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, with regards to minorities by referring to his August 11, 1947 speech wherein he stated categorically: “You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Unfortunately, the words of Quaid-e-Azam have fell on deaf ears since they were spoken. Even though the Pakistan Peoples Party government — in 2009 — declared August 11 as National Minorities Day as a gesture of good faith, minorities feel that actions speak louder than words.
Moreover, the country’s non-Muslims feel there is no need to have a separate day for them if they are, in fact, equal citizens of the country as per the Constitution.
Samson Salamat, chairman of Rawadari Tehreek, regretted that the country’s religious minorities observe a day meant for them amid fear and uncertainty, adding that there is nothing much to celebrate on the day to begin with. Counting the various incidents of violence against non-Muslims and examples of religious intolerance in the society this year alone, he said these are enough to convince minority communities about their actual status.
Members of minority communities feel that unless effective and practical measures are taken by the government to protect them and stem religious extremism, observance of such national days every year will continue to be what it is — “a lollipop”.
Professor Syed Mehmood Ghaznavi said that all humans have equal rights in Islam, adding that the punishment in Islam if a Muslim kills a Christian or a Christian kills a Muslim is the same. “There is no such day [National Minorities Day] declared for minorities in Islam, as we treat everyone equally,” he explained, terming the observance of the day a form of discrimination.
However, Punjab Deputy Information Secretary Barrister Ameer Hussain said the purpose behind observing the minority day is to highlight the speech of Quaid-e-Azam to the Constituent Assembly in 1947 and to remind everyone that the state shall protect the rights of its people without any discrimination of religion, creed or cast. Whether the state is fulfilling its duty is a whole different question.