Quaid’sVision for the Minorities and Today’s Reality
By Cllr Dr James Shera
The founder and father of the nation of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was undoubtedly revered and trusted by all, irrespective of citizens' faith, belief or creed.
During his struggle for the independence of Pakistan, Christian organisations and activists along with others actively supported Mr Jinnah in his great mission even before the final phase of the freedom movement was launched. Christians not just loved him and agreed with his thinking and ideology but also offered him outpouring support. Leading Christians at that time took active part in the freedom movement, including Mr Pothan Joseph, who rendered valuable services as a journalist and propagandist for the Muslim League.
After Pakistan’s emergence in 1947, Mr Jinnah repeatedly promised complete equality to all the citizens but unfortunately his promise was not kept by his successors.
In his address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11th August 1947, Mr Jinnah said:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples; free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state."
So, let us start with this fundamental principle of citizen equality in a state, which is vital for the development and progress of any nation.
I firmly believe that Mr Jinnah was a very forward-looking leader, who whole-heartedly wanted Pakistan to become one of the world’s greatest nations in the shortest possible time. His education in the West and vast global knowledge facilitated him to foresee problems that often plague nations and become a hindrance in progress; he wanted to address them and warned the nation clearly of such obstacles. Hence his speech, on 11th August that has been quoted above, evidently sums up his views on the role of religion in relation to the state and its affairs. This speech continued to be heard on radio Pakistan until 1957 and since then has never been broadcast again.
The Quaid obviously understood the sensitivity of the matter and knew that breaking a nation into groups based on cast or religion would do us no good. So, he taught equality amongst all citizens and love towards each other, leaving religion and creed as a personal matter of an individual which should not obstruct the progress of the country.
Perhaps his historic speech of 11th August, considered by many as the founding charter of Pakistan, sums up the Quaid’s views on the role of religion in the State. Pakistan's founding father envisaged a progressive, democratic and tolerant society that retained its Muslim character whilst giving equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal respect to its non-Muslim citizens.
As I hinted earlier, Christian communities fought hard for independence along with their Muslim brothers during the freedom movement. In 1947, the division of Punjab became a major dispute between the All India Congress and All-India Muslim League. Both parties were trying to have the maximum part of Punjab on the basis of religious majority that was endorsing the aspirations of Punjab Assembly and there was quite a majority of Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab Assembly, and of course the Hindu Unionist party was in support of the All India Congress.
It looked as though the All-India Muslim League did not have enough votes in the Punjab Assembly and neither had enough territories to command a Muslim majority. In such a situation, Christian members of the Punjab Assembly openly sided with the All-India Muslim League and declared that the Christian population should be counted with the Muslims. So, when the votes were cast, Christian Members of the Punjab Assembly, including Mr Dewan Bhadar, SP Singa, C E Gibbon and Choudhry Fazal Elahi, voted with the Muslim League Members on 23rd June 1947.
History tells us that the Hindu Unionist party supported by the All India Congress got 88 seats, whereas the All-India Muslim League got 88 seats, but the 3 votes from the Christian leaders named above played a crucial rule in the formation of West Punjab.
When they were entering the Constituent Assembly, Master Tarah Singh shouted at the stairs of the assembly, “Whoever demands Pakistan will get Qabristan”, and in return, Mr SP Singha (Christian member of the Punjab Assembly) replied, “We will have the bullets in our chest but we will get Pakistan”.
Finally, the voting took place and 91 votes were cast in favor of the Muslim League including 3 Christian, but the final and decisive vote was cast by the Speaker of Punjab Assembly, Mr S P Singha, who was a Christian.
The above account clearly demonstrates the trust of the Christian community in the ideology and promises of the Quaid. Also upon his request, the Christian leadership appeared before the Punjab Boundary Commission along with 35 prominent Christians and asked the Boundary Commissioner Sir Cyril Redcliffe to consider Christians as part of Pakistan.
Today questions are being asked by non-Muslim leaders as to why our forefathers supported Pakistan and the simple answer is that they did so because the founder of Pakistan Mr M. A. Jinnah repeatedly promised them security, equality, freedom and free access to practise their faith in the Islamic state of Pakistan.
Mr Jinnah had the approval of the Muslim League’s Core Committee for the flag of Pakistan to have white colour in it along with green to show to the world that this new state wholeheartedly considers non-Muslims as equal and integral members of the state. Mr Jinnah was very clear in his vision that he did not want non-Muslims in Pakistan to suffer as the Muslim minority suffered in India. Hence, he thought that the Muslim minority upon becoming a majority would not forget how it feels to be a minority and would offer security, love and equal treatment to the other minorities dwelling in Pakistan while they were in the majority.
Mr Jinnah's speeches and actions are evidence that he genuinely believed in an ideal Islamic state that cared and catered for everyone irrespective of their creed, breed, religion or language. History tells us that on the first Christmas after independence, in 1947, Mr Jinnah went to the St Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi and celebrated Christmas along with the Christians.
Today, what is happening in Pakistan? We are totally negating our Quaid's message of Unity, Faith and Discipline and are divided into different groups based on religion, language, caste and creed. We have even come to a point where sometimes we do not feel proud to be Pakistanis.
Despite challenges and difficulties, Pakistani non-Muslims, and particularly Christians, are serving the country with total devotion. There are countless non-Muslims who have played a prominent role in Pakistan’s development, and it would be unfair if I don’t mention their names here: Justice A R Cornelius, who served as Chief Justice of Pakistan; Mr Justice Bhagwan Das; and several distinguished Pakistan Air Force pilots including Cecil Chaudhry, Peter O Reilly, and Mervyn L Moddlecoat.
Christians have also contributed immensely as educationalists, politicians. doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti gave his life while defending Quaid's vision along with many Muslims who also sacrificed their lives in defending Quaid's Pakistan: Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto and Shaheed Salman Taseer. Our armed forces and law enforcing agencies along with many innocent citizens have also been killed by those forces who do not share our Founding Father's vision. We must not allow them to succeed.
As Pakistanis we proclaim that we love our country and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah but we must not leave it to words alone but put our claims to practice. Surely, love is incomplete without faithfulness. I am proud to say that Christians of Pakistan have been serving the Quaid's Pakistan with total devotion and faithfulness despite many challenges and discriminatory laws that have been thrust upon them.
After every act of oppression, we hear sympathetic and supportive words from social, political and religious leaders but they very often remain mere words as not much is done practically to prevent such excesses against minorities. Actions speak louder than words. Today we feel more frightened and insecure than we ever were during the freedom movement under the Quaid’s leadership in 1947. Pakistan is a great country and I believe the answer to the gigantic challenges and problems it is facing today lies in reverting back to Quaid's Pakistan and his original vision: rule of law, good governance, justice, religious freedom and equal rights for all citizens of the state irrespective of their creed or social status.
Long live Pakistan.
(Cllr. Dr James Shera is MBE, SPk (Sitara-e- Pakistan), Former Mayor of Rugby, England, Freeman of the Borough of Rugby and Distinguished Formanite)
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