CAA belies facts on ground

The Pakistani Reality

PTI photo

In replying to the criticism of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly stated that it was required to give Indian nationality to refugees facing religious persecution of six minority groups, namely Hindus, Christians, Buddhists,  Jains, Sikhs and Parsis living in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Coinciding with the nationwide protests against the citizenship law are two cases from the Punjab province of Pakistan, one of the countries mentioned in the CAA, that have dominated the social media space in the last three weeks that have direct relevance to the acrimonious debate. 

On December 10 this year, which is also celebrated as International Human Rights Day, a young female Pakistani federal government bureaucrat, Jannat Hussain Nekokara, posted in Attock district of Pothwari-speaking northern Punjab, situated close to Islamabad, landed herself in trouble. She had reportedly said at a public function that day that minority rights should be respected and that there shouldn’t be discrimination against anyone and differences among various communities should dissolve to face the common enemy. In her speech, she named various communities and this resulted in resentment as some students alleged that she had implicitly stated that the Ahmadiyya, declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani constitution, are Muslims.

In a public defence, seemed to be arranged by local officials to defuse the tensions and calm the enraged students, the bureaucrat had to clarify her position and apologize for using the word ‘Ahmadiyya’ and had to repeatedly say that they are non-Muslims. In the video available on social media, it can be seen and heard that the students made her say that her son, named after Prophet Mohammed, was not a Muslim as he was an Ahmadiyya. "Say he is kafir (infidel) and a non-Muslim, naming him Mohammed won’t help," one of the student protesters told the bureaucrat.

Though the Ahmadiyya were strong supporters in demanding Pakistan before 1947, anti- Ahmadiyya movement started soon after its creation. British Historian Ian Talbot in his seminal book, Pakistan: A Modern History, says that “there is strong evidence that Punjab’s Chief Minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana (1951-53) viewed the anti- Ahmadiyya movement as a useful distraction from the deteriorating economic situation.” His tenure was marked by large-scale violence in 1953 and street protests, which became unruly, were finally quelled by the army. There were also demands that the Ahmadiyya, who apparently had a higher literacy rate as compared to other sections of the population, should not occupy high government posts. The first foreign minister of Pakistan, Zafarullah Khan, had to resign from his position as he was an Ahmadiyya.

Another case that has dominated the social media space is that of Junaid Hafeez, an academic of English literature, from the Seraki-speaking south-western part of Punjab province. He had studied in the US for his Master’s degree on a Fulbright scholarship. A lecturer from Bahauddin Zakariya University, Hafeez was arrested in 2013 for alleged violation of blasphemy laws. Subsequently, while he was held in solitary confinement since 2014, his co-accused Shirin Zubair, the head of the literature department, reportedly had to flee Pakistan to Europe. One of his lawyers, Rashid Rehman, was killed during the trial. On December 21, he was convicted and sentenced to death for “outraging religious sentiments.”

In seeking Presidential pardon for Hafeez, an online petition stated that not only has he been in solitary confinement since 2014, he has now been sentenced to death over a politically and socially motivated accusation involving coercion and abuse of power. “Trials of this nature have been misused throughout our history as a nation. To incite hatred and cause unnecessary pain and conflict. Let us appeal to our intelligence and rationality as a nation. There must be something left in us? Some shred of humanity?” It's almost 2020. We are starting a new era, we can write a different history. Can we somehow vie for a better, more peaceful, tolerant Pakistan? Please raise your voice.”

Both blasphemy laws and the laws governing the Ahmadiyya community were passed during the tumultuous period of the country’s political history between 1971 and 1990. The period was marked by the majoritarian populist politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who gave a new constitution to the country in 1973. In 1974, the Parliament made amendments to articles 106 and 260 of the constitution and declared the Ahmadiyya non-Muslims. The military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq furthered this process as his rule coincided with the rise of extremist groups in the backdrop of the US-sponsored Afghan jihad in which Pakistan was a key ally.

A BBC report dated May 8, 2019, citing data given by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), shows that a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadiyya, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2018. Herald, a monthly magazine, which recently closed, had reported that in 2017, the score of extrajudicial killings of various religious groups in connection with alleged blasphemy was: Muslims 39, Christians 23, and Ahmadi 9. A serving Governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri at an Islamabad café in 2010 after Taseer appealed for the pardon of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Therefore, the recent and past trends in Pakistan demonstrate that if the Indian government’s intention is to help those facing religious persecution in that country, the CAA legislation needs to be inclusive in scope. This will be in line with the foundational principles of our Constitution, which debars any kind of discrimination on account of one’s faith.

(The writer is a political analyst and author of Across the Line of Control: Inside Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir)

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