Thursday, June 10, 2010

The secular Pakistan narrative

Pakistani liberals place a great emphasis on the vision that Jinnah presented to the Constituent Assembly of the newly formed state of Pakistan on August 11, 1947.  It seems only natural, until one looks even a little deeper.  I hope in a series of posts to raise questions, and I invite all readers to participate in seeking the answers to these questions.

Pakistan has not implemented Jinnah's idea as expressed in that August 11, 1947 speech during the last sixty years, and general public opinion seems to be in favor of strict Shariat law. How will the use of Jinnah's speech change minds now?

On one side let us put Jinnah's idea of a secular Pakistan as expressed on August 11, 1947 (the relevant excerpt is below).

On the other side, let us put the fact that Jinnah's idea died, its death started with the Objectives Resolution of March 12, 1949 adopted by the Constituent Assembly, if not earlier.  Let us add to it the fact that we have very little commentary from when Jinnah made the speech as to how the speech was received by the Constituent Assembly.  Pakistan has on several occasions revisited its constitution; in no case was Jinnah's secularism adopted.

And let us look at what we know of current public opinion in Pakistan.  E.g., Terror Free Tomorrow  had surveys of Pakistan in 2007 and 2008.  Granted, an unrepresentative population - more urban and far less illiterate than truly random sample would be.  In 2007, 41.2% thought it very important that strict Sharia law be implemented and 34.8% thought it was somewhat important; in 2008 it was 36.8% and 37.9% respectively - in both polls, more than a two-thirds majority outweighed the sum of "somewhat unimportant", "not at all important", "refused to answer and don't know".

Why would one imagine that Jinnah's vision would sway the minds of the Pakistani people now sixty years later?

Since the Shariat explicitly recognizes religious affiliation  - Muslim and non-Muslim - it is not possible to say that in a state governed by the Shariat, "Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State".
The relevant pieces of the Objectives Resolution:
"Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed;

Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah; "

Here for reference' sake is the relevant section of Jinnah's speech:
Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be on end to the progress you will make.

I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this.

Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class.

Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

PS: In Pakistan today, Hindus are ceasing to be Hindus; though Muslims are not ceasing to be Muslims.  Since it is hotly denied that forced conversions happened historically, this must be modern practice only, I suppose. Please don't get distracted by that, however, for the purpose of this post.

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