This too is Pakistan
by Devika Mittal
It is quite common for most of ‘us’, the non-Pakistanis and those who have known Pakistan mainly through our national or international media, to stereotype Pakistan with religious fundamentalists, the Taliban, intolerance to religious minorities, men with moustache and topis, all women in burqa etc etc. Being an Indian, as my national media would tell me, I would also expect all Pakistanis to have venom against India and to be solely responsible for all military clashes. I would be taught to expect “Pakistan” to be of a certain type. So the Indian as well as International media would try its best to give us answers for “What is Pakistan”. I, through this article, would try to tell “what is also Pakistan”.
The basic conception about Pakistan pertains to the official religion i.e. Islam. Pakistan today is seen as being controlled by religious fanatics, the mullahs and their violent extreme – the Taliban. We hear about Malala, the ban on youtube, the persecution of religious minorities. There is no denial to this dismal reality. Yes, there is a lot of religious influence in several spheres. But what is equally important is the constant struggle by people of Pakistan against them. There is a section of the population who do not believe in them, who have rejected and struggle against their authority. Like in India and globally, people of Pakistan do not feel that their political and religious heads represent them. There are many civil society organisations and individuals who have constantly raised their voice and have protested against them. The virtual world – Facebook and Twitter have emerged as the counter-platforms. There are several pages on Facebook that criticize these acts and challenge the claim of representation. There are several alternatives to youtube. There are counter-voices and they represent Pakistan.
The essence of Pakistan is not religious conservatism, it is religious tolerance. The white portion in the national flag of Pakistan represents the religious minorities. In the universities, there is also quota for religious minorities. The Constitution of Pakistan grants them the freedom to profess any religion. It is true that religious minorities have been subjected to atrocities but that is not the entire story. That is not Pakistan. The persecution has been condemned by people of Pakistan as well. They also protest against the persecutions and that is Pakistan. Recently, a virtual anti-terrorism campaign has emerged in Pakistan by the name of “Awaz Uthe gi”. It condemns the discrimination and violence meted out to the minorities.
It is widely-believed among Indians that Pakistan and people of Pakistan have a lot of venom for India and Indians. All they cite are the wars, the border clashes and acts of terrorism. It is not entirely their fault because this is all that they have been shown. It is always hatred that is cited. What is not cited are the instances of goodwill, peace and friendship that have been initiated by Pakistan. What they don’t know or don’t remember is that the school in which the present PM, Manmohan Singh, had studied had been renamed after him. What they don’t know so widely that there has been a long-standing struggle for a “Bhagat Singh chowk” in Pakistan. They don’t know that there is a samadhi for Sir Ganga Ram in Lahore. They are unaware that Pakistan allows hundreds of sikh pilgrims to Nankana Sahib every year. What they don’t know is that the soldiers on wagah border exchange sweets on Holi, Diwali and Eid. What they don’t remember is that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sent a bouquet for Sonia Gandhi when she was ill.
As for gender, it has been quite easy to talk about women empowerment in an Islamic country. The parameters to judge it have mostly confined to the existence of burqa and hijab. While we must recognise that we fail to acknowledge the agency of those women who do not find it discriminating and may, on the other hand, find it liberating as it does not objectify their body, but even if that has to be taken, we must know that not all women in Pakistan do wear the burqa or hijab. There have been voices against it. Contrary to stereotypes, women in Pakistan also appear significantly in education, politics, army and other spheres. We must also acknowledge that we have failed to see the progress that Pakistan has been doing in terms of giving rights to LGBTQ community.
We have failed to see Pakistan. We have failed to see how it struggles like any other country. There is a lot more to be explored. Yes, there are problems with Pakistan but so do we. The people of Pakistan are struggling and challenging the existing evils like us. You may ask, why does it concern us? It concerns us because there is a war industry out there that operates on these weapons of miscommunication. There are people out there who will paint Pakistan as an evil and themselves as saints and ‘saviours’.
This article got published at The Alternative
Devika Mittal is the convenor(India) of Indo-Pak initiative named Aaghaz-e-Dosti and core member of Mission Bhartiyam.