“How are you treated, being a minority in your country?”

By: Raj Kumar

My answer has always been very simple, I am treated just like anyone else; one of their own. But if one were to believe the media, then we are victims of discrimination, brutal killings and part of the largest migration in human history.

For the past few years, I have been friends with a number of Muslims and have never felt discriminated on the basis of my religion, or any other basis for that matter. I was always treated with respect and always welcomed in their homes. The only form of prejudice I have ever endured is when I went to Islamabad for higher education. As I introduced myself in class, the mere mention of my name made the other students and teacher question if I was Indian. I couldn’t understand how they failed to recognize that the Pakistani population comprised of 1.2% Hindus.

However, that wasn’t the last of it. During a cricket match between India and Pakistan, one that we were watching in class, many of my classmates were astonished to hear that I was supporting the Pakistani team. In fact, a friend of mine even went so far as to question why I was not supporting the Indian team! It was at that moment that I wished I had a Pakistani copy right patent next to my name, so I didn’t have to justify myself to anyone. Did I have to support the Indian team simply because of my name or religion?

As far as my identity is concerned, there are many times that I have had to show my NADRA identity card to people, such as the local merchants or traffic police, simply to prove that I am a Pakistani. But I don’t believe a Muslim feels any differently in the US or any other part of the world. I am sure that he/she has to prove his/her identity as an American-Muslim or a person from another planet.

Despite what everyone seems to think however, for me, it has been a blessing to be born into a Hindu family in a Muslim state; I have been treated with nothing but respect, care and love. From schooling to university, I was always surrounded by Muslim friends. I have even studied Islamic studies like every other student in Pakistan, and in fact, was often appreciated by my teachers.

I was the first Hindu to get admission in the Army Public School Chhor Cantonment in Mirpur Khas, Sindh. I remember the days when I used to fast during Ramazan as a respectful gesture to my Muslim friends. On the first day of my fast, the warden of the hostel offered me a seat near him and we opened our fast together. I also remember the days when I participated in the Muharram procession in the small town of Dhoronaro.

Even though there is a common misconception that minorities in Pakistan need to be pitied, I have never felt that way. Most of the blame I would attribute for such a deplorable reputation would be at the media; it has portrayed the situation of the minorities living in Pakistan as thirdclass citizens. Yet, I have never been treated anything remotely close to that. Last month, I travelled to India for the first time to attend a conference in Chandigarh. Even though I was in a country that was home to millions belonging to the same religion and caste as me, I missed my country, my home, my identity and my people.

I won’t deny that I was bombarded with questions regarding the status of Hindus in Pakistan. But being a Pakistani Hindu, I was unbiased and precise with my answers. I told them that I have always felt like a star of my country and I feel safe, which is why I am as loyal as any Muslim in the country. Pakistan doesn’t just belong to Muslims; it belongs to all the residents of its soil. Furthermore, there is good and bad everywhere in the world, but one should stay positive and if it’s about the security, then the Muslims themselves are not safe either. So why single out a particular community based on what is being portrayed to the world? I believe religion is not the cause of tension between us, as religion itself teaches us tolerance and coexistence. I have been sharing my religious festivals (Holi, Diwali, and Raksha bandhan) with my Muslims friends and I tend to participate in their festivals (Eidul Fitr) with the same zeal. I even took my friends to Katas Raj Temple, which is the national heritage, just so they realize that it doesn’t just belong to Hindus.

We are a happy family with different identities. As a nation, we share the same food, clothes, buildings, laws, and events. All these elements are what bring us together under the same umbrella, then why do we look for reasons to hate each other?

But there are questions that come to my mind as a lost voice of Pakistan, questions relating to how the Constitution of Pakistan does not allow a non-Muslim to occupy either of these offices. According to Article 41 (2) of the Constitution,

“A person shall not be qualified for election as president unless he is a Muslim of not less than 45 years of age and is qualified to be elected as a member of the National Assembly.”

Similarly, Article 91 (3) stipulates,

“After the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker, the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the prime minister.”

Now, as a Hindu who was born and raised in Pakistan, I never felt the need to question the heights to which I could rise. I had been weaned on the belief that all citizens in Pakistan are equal, and that the state will never endorse discrimination along religious lines. Whenever there are incidents of religious prejudice in Pakistan, of which there are many, I reassure myself with the belief that these instances in no shape or form reflect the thinking that underpins our state machinery. But this approach now seems increasingly paradoxical to me.

I have always felt proud to call Pakistan my homeland, but constitutional limitations such as this one always make me wonder whether the state is proud to call me, and other non-Muslims like me, its own. While we readily call for religious plurality in other parts of the world, why are we so reticent to abide by those same principles in our country? We cannot berate other nations for discriminating against Muslims along religious lines if we ourselves fail to ensure that any Pakistani can rise to the highest office in the country. My job is make voices like me heard and so that we can work together for a prosperous country, as was envisioned by our founder Quaid-eAzam who in his speech on 11th August stated, ’“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.

” To ensure that the voices are heard, we all need to stand for each other’s rights and protect the diversity and plurality promised by our founders as the central pillar of Pakistan.