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Religion and Society

The harsh law of power relations

There are various kinds of minorities in Pakistan: Ethnic, linguistic, and religious. The latter is the most obvious so we will restrict ourselves to religious minorities. Christians number about 3 million in a total population of 150 million. Besides these there are 3 million Hindus. There are also Ahmedias (Qadianis) who in Pakistan are declared non-Muslims(1); and Zoroastrians, known as Parsis, since they came originally from Persia (Iran). Finally, of the 11 tribes of Kalash, descendants of Alexander the Great's armies which settled in the northern areas of Pakistan, nine converted to Islam at the time of the islamisation of Pakistan during the rule of the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Their religion has some elements of ancient Greek religion.

 

Most Christians, half of whom are Protestants, were converted over 150 years ago from the lower classes of "untouchables", called "harijans" by Mahatma Gandhi, but known today in India as "dalits". For over four millennia they remained slaves on the land of rich Hindu, Buddhist and later Muslim landlords. Only after the British arrived, missionaries bought land and settled them in Christian villages, of which there are about 34 all over Pakistan, both Catholic and Protestant.

 

Besides these villages, mission schools were started all over the country. Catholic education policy differed from that of the Protestants. Catholics favoured schools, mostly primary, and a few high schools. Protestants went for colleges. That is why there are many protestants who are graduates, and hold high posts in the civil and military services. However, when most schools, and all colleges in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab were nationalized in 1972, the gap between Protestants and Catholics began to close. By 2002, most schools and some colleges were returned to the Christians; but during the 30 year period when their educational institutions were taken away, Christians lost a whole generation of youth, many of whom sell heroin, alcohol (forbidden in Islam), and indulge in crimes to survive.

 

 

From the colony to the clubs

 

Before the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, two notable phenomena must be mentioned. One is connected to the enterprising spirit of a small community of Goans, originally from the Portuguese colony of Goa, annexed in 1961 by India. Since the Portuguese colonial policy was different from that of Britain, Goans found no opportunities for education (beyond primary school) and no jobs (since there was no industrialization and no infrastructure). Whereas the British brought the best things of the mother country to India: not only high schools but colleges and universities, industries and businesses, railways, telegraph, one of the best road-systems and so on. So any Goan who wanted an education, or a job, felt obliged to go to British India.

 

Hence Goans immigrated to Poona (Pune), Bombay (Mumbai), Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan: as far as Quetta, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. What is remarkable is their organizing ability and spirit of enterprise. They came first as cooks and butlers, clerks and musicians. They created "clubs" where new immigrants could stay till they got a job and a house, which enabled them to move out of the "clubs".

 

 

Banks and insurance

 

As they progressed, they opened the first bank called the Karachi Bank; several good bakeries; started the first Life Insurance company called ILACO (Indian Life Insurance Company); of note was the biggest flourmill in the city called Goa Flour Mill. Later on, they built housing colonies such as Cincanatus Town and two others, exclusively for Catholics, called Catholic Colony No.1 and No.2. They also had two recreational clubs called Karachi Goan Association and the Goan Union. The former also had a huge sports field, which produced olympic hockey players, and national cricket players. Many became judges, doctors, lawyers, engineers and top executives in banks, insurance, shipping and so on.

 

In their recreational clubs, they twice, after an interval of 50 years, produced operas like Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. Many bought land and constructed houses. Besides the three colonies of bungalows (two exclusively for Catholics) there were two complexes of multistoried flats.

 

This community produced the first Catholic Mayor of the city of Karachi (Mr. Manuel Misquita) and several bishops in India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the descendants of most of these enterprising people, soon after the partition of India in 1947, left for the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia, and the immigration continues to this day. Most of the businesses closed down, ILACO was nationalized and the flour mill was sold. A glorious chapter of a small enterprising community came to an end.

 

Another outstanding and even smaller minority was that of Hindu intellectuals in Sindh who started converting to Christianity. It was somewhat like the Oxford Movement in England where Anglicans like Cardinal Newman converted to the Catholic Church. From among these converts came two priests, Fr. Kotwani, a Franciscan, and Fr. Bulchand, a Jesuit. These converts translated The Imitation of Christ and the Gospels into such good Sindhi, that they were used by the University. After 1947, this movement came to an end and, with other Sindhi Hindus, the converts left for Bombay where they now reside.

 

The Parsis are a very small community but very wealthy, highly educated and prominent in business. Others who came to Pakistan originally from Gujrat in India, and also known for their business acumen, are the Bohras, the Aga Khanis and Memons. The former two are sub-sects of the Shi'a, who are about 20% of the Muslims, the rest being Sunnis.

 

Although they are small in number, the mystics (called Sufis) played a very important part in converting the Hindus and Buddhists of South Asia to Islam. Their secret was their simple life-style, use of the popular language and music, and their reputation for sanctity. One example is Kashmir, which was entirely Hindu or Buddhist, but due to a few Sufis, converted to Islam: today Kashmir is a majority Muslim state controlled by India (Jammu and Srinagar) with some part controlled by Pakistan.

 

What is now generally known worldwide is the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan. There are discriminatory laws which affect Christians. It is written in the constitution that no non-Muslim can be President or Prime Minister. The "Blasphemy law" awards the death penalty for disrespecting the Prophet Muhammed, and life imprisonment for desecrations against Christians, who are jailed or killed. The "Law of Evidence" devalues the witness of women and minorities. The Law of Qisas and Diya(2) allows a rich person to be acquitted by paying blood money to the victim's heirs. So the poor (like most Christians) get killed but the murderer buys his way out. Of late, there are cases of forced conversions to Islam of Hindus and Christians. Under the Hudùd Ordinance(3), Christians can't give witness against Muslim offenders and Christian judges cannot try cases of Hudùd which are Islamic law, however, Christians can be punished under these laws. Many Muslim scholars refuse to accept Hudùd Laws as Islamic.

 

 

Human rights and promotion of justice

 

Of late, there have been good developments. The system of separate electorates, called the "mother of all evils" by minorities, made each religious minority vote for its own candidates. Hence they were cut off from the mainstream decisions because Muslims took no interest in minorities as they could not get their votes. Minorities could only vote for their own co-religionists, who, unlike Muslims, had no political or economic clout, and could not help their own people. It was a case of religious apartheid. The "Blasphemy law" was passed by a parliament elected under the separate electorate system. Though Christians protested, Muslim legislators paid no heed. They would have, if they had needed their votes.

 

Now the government has reverted to the joint-electorate system, where minorities can now vote for a politically and economically strong (Muslim) candidate, who can help them.

 

Another positive development is the return of most of the schools nationalized in 1972, and of one college. We await the return of the remaining schools and the other colleges.

 

To conclude, one must admire the spirit of enterprise and the contribution to nation--building made by Christians and other minorities.

 

Traditionally, Christians have been in the fore-front of education and health activities. Many of the country's leaders studied in Christian institutions: both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Azia were students of St. Patrick's School, Karachi, and of Christian colleges in the Punjab. The prosperous Parsi minority, though small in numbers, has also made a great contribution to society.

 

New fields of service have been opened by Christians in the areas of human rights, justice and peace. The strategy is to work together with people of other faiths to make the socio-politico-economic structures less oppressive and more just. One is to correct the evils of a feudal system where the landlord is king, judge and executioner all rolled into one. Twenty-two families control 80% of the country's wealth. The lion's share of the budget is spent in defence, leaving very little for health, education, housing, and social welfare. Corruption is such that the total amount of black money belonging to bureaucrats, politicians and industrialists which is kept in banks abroad, equals Pakistan's international debt.

 

In such a corrupt structure, most of the people suffer, but minorities always suffer the most.

 

 


 

(1) It is a sect originating in the XIX century within Indian Islam due to the preaching of Mirza Ghulaan Ahmad, self-proclaimed renewer of the Islamic faith. According to the opinion of many ulama, the Ahmadi do not belong to the Muslim community. Cfr. A. BAUSANI, l'Islam, Garzanti, Milano 1980 [Ed.]

 

 

(2) Literally an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is a norm of classical Islamic law that, depending on circumstances, sanctions murder, giving the family of the deceased the right either to the law of retaliation or to an amount of money as reparation [Ed.]

 

 

(3) That part of criminal law regulated directly by the Koran: theft, banditry, adultery, slander, the taking of wine and apostasy [Ed.]

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