Friday, May 25, 2007

Pakistan - neither free nor safe

PAKISTAN, literally "the land of the Pure", or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to give it its full official name, was set up with the partition of India, amid massive communal violence on both sides, around half a million deaths and the flight of over seven million refugees in each direction.

Unlike India which, though it has its Hindu supremacists, officially strove to be a secular national state, Pakistan was explicitly founded on religion. The Muslim state initially straddled the sub-continent to control East Bengal till the latter fought its way to independence as Bangla Desh. Pakistan, whether under politicians or the military, has also been a bastion of the "free world" - member of the Western imperialist-backed CENTO, base for US spy flights over the Soviet Union, base area for anti-Soviet guerrillas fighting in Afghanistan, then for the Saudi-backed Taliban, and nowadays of course for the Washington-led "war on terror".

One problem with founding a state of "the pure" is that there will always be some fanatic convinced whatever they do is justified by their own pure motives and to make life even purer. In Pakistan, this applies to religious rigour, not to drinking water. Like its neighbour it has become a nuclear power, and you can't expect the authorities to find money for everything. In Pakistan today the military and the religious leaders -oft-times allies, whether against their neighbours or progress - are contending for privilege and power.

President Parvez Musharraf's Western allies, trapped in their hopeless war in Afghanistan, might turn a blind eye to the state of their rear area, but ordinary Pakistanis for whom it's more a Land of the Poor can not. Nor, to their credit, do some Muslims abroad.

Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the director of the Muslim Institute and Leader of the Muslim Parliament in the UK, and Amjad Hussain, whose brother was recently released after being held on death row under a sharia court ruling, have joined in calling on President Pervez Musharraf and the Government of Pakistan to curb the rise of extremism and gender discrimination in the country.

Their call comes after weeks of stand off between the authorities and hard-line clerics and fanatics who blocked roads and tried to impose Shariah (Islamic rule) in the capital and took captive law enforcement officials. Previously they issued fatwa (religious edict) against the Minister for Tourism Senator Mrs Nilofar Bakhtiar following her parachute jump in France in March to raise money for victims of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

In February of this year a misguided religious fanatic shot dead a provincial woman minister because he thought Muslim women should not participate in public life.

Dr Siddiqui, a scholar of international repute expressed concern “at disturbing revival of extremism and Talebanisation, worsening Humans Rights condition and gender discrimination in the country. These fanatics by their repressive actions are bringing the good name of Islam into disrupt worldwide. No civil society can endorse the use of violence for political objects or least the places of worship for instigating the same.”

Expressing solidarity with Senator Bakhtiar, he adds, “We are really dismayed at the behaviour of the fundamentalist clerics and some opportunists in the ruling party; the way they have misrepresented and sensationalised your noble cause to raise money for the earthquake victims. We condemn their threats and intimidations towards you. More over we express solidarity with women in public life and the gender discrimination they face in Pakistan. The Pakistan Diaspora community in UK and EU is supportive of the splendid job that you are doing as Tourism Minister.”

The Muslim Parliament is calling upon authorities in Pakistan to ensure that women in public life are not discriminated against and to assure their safety and security.

Worst of both worlds for Dalits

Women are not the only people in Pakistan facing discrimination. One claim that could be made for Islam, and one reason it gained adherants in the sub-continent, is that it did not recognise caste divisions, since human beings were equal in the sight of Allah. But it seems that neither the dedication of Pakistan to Islam, or to Western ideas of freedom, nor the pledges of its founder Dr.Ali Jinnah, have prevented some of its people experiencing one of the worst aspects of Indian, Hindu tradition, which has in fact become absorbed into both Sikh and Muslim practice in south Asia.

Witness this other recent petition to President Musharraf, on behalf of Dalits, that is to say "Untouchables":

SUB: Conditions of Dalits in Mirpurkhas Division

'Dear Sir,

Your scheduled visit to Naunkot, the centre-point of the Mirpurkhas Division and the region where Dalits form almost 35 per cent of the total population is being viewed by Dalits as very important.

The reason is that you have taken some steps to pull the Dalits of Pakistan, known as Scheduled Castes, from the tragic history of sufferings in the form of untouchability, caste-discrimination, and human inequality of different forms and manifestations.

Though it may surprise your honour and your local so-called upper caste people, both Muslims and Hindus, may term it as part of their culture, but the fact remains on the ground that Dalits in Pakistan are still being subjected to many forms of untouchability, caste discrimination, human inequality and humiliation just because they are born as Shudras. All these sufferings are ordained in the Manu Samriti, or Law (Code) of Manu. Some of these Codes, which could be found as being implemented in this region, which your honour is visiting, are as follows:

A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of high caste shall be branded on his hip and be banished, or [the king] shall cause his buttock to be gashed. (Any form of punishment for this 'crime'
A man of low caste, who, through covetousness, lives by the occupations of a higher one, the king shall deprive of his property and banish.
No collection of wealth must be made a Shudra, even though he be able [to do it], for a Shudra who has acquired wealth gives pain to Brahmins.
A Brahmin may confidently seize the goods of [his] Shudra [slave], for, as that [slave] can have no property, his master may take his possessions [_] and they should not have any property except dogs and donkeys.

Mr. President,

The conditions of Dalits in Pakistan have not improved despite the promise of Founder of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who addressed a Press conference on August 15, 1944 and said "I can tell my friends of the Scheduled Castes that at no time have I overlooked their interests and position and I may claim that in the past I have done all I could to help them, and I shall always stand for their protection and safe--guard in any future scheme of constitution for I think that the wrongs and injustices inflicted on them for centuries should not be allowed to continue under any civilized form of government."

In Tharparker, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Tando, Allahyar and other districts of lower Sindh, the utensils for Scheduled Castes are kept separate in government schools, government departments and public places.
In Tharparker, the Scheduled Castes who form 35 per cent of the population, have practically been deprived their due share in development schemes worth billions of rupees under your government.

And in Tharparker alone, thousands of Scheduled Castes people have been deprived of their cattle, moveable and immovable properties through theft and forced occupation. Under what law this is done, perhaps it is the same Manu Samriti reinvented by the upper castes.

I hope your honour will take swift action to end all these sufferings and deprivations of the Scheduled Castes while addressing the people in Naunkot on May 5, 2007. The Scheduled Castes of Pakistan hope you would consider remedial for these ills.

With Best Regards,
S Surendar Valasai
Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan (SCFP)



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