- Such labels should not be used if the communities in question do not endorse them
On both local and international media Krishna Kumari Kohli is being lauded as the ‘first Dalit woman’ to become a Senator in Pakistan. In fact, she was earlier erroneously called the first female Hindu Senator, but has been duly corrected, since Ratna Bhagwandas Chawla was elected in 2006.
But the change has been made to ‘first Dalit woman’, which not only gives the publications the ‘feel good’ story that often sells well, but for Pakistani media this was an opportunity to do one over their counterparts in India, where Dalits are a persecuted community.
However, in this race to go first nobody bothered to check whether the ‘feel good’ story actually made Krishna Kohli feel any good.
For the record, both she and her fellow Hindu activists have reaffirmed that Pakistani Hindus do not like being earmarked as the ‘scheduled caste’ – as they are across the border. In fact, for many of them it is an ‘Indian thing’ that has nothing to do with Pakistani Hindus, who are the indigenous people of this country.
As much as we would like to tout an Islamic state as the epitome of positive treatment for minorities, the very fact that it establishes a Muslim-non-Muslim differentiation suffices in it not being the path to a modern day egalitarian state
For the community, being called Dalits is to establish them on the lowest echelon of the orthodox Hindu caste hierarchy. The Pakistani Constitution and law does not distinguish between the different Hindu castes, and hence one should exercise caution in using these loaded terms, especially when the person in question does not accept that label.
Even so, while the Constitution doesn’t discriminate between Hindu castes, it happens to do so in Islamic sects. The Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1974 decided who is and isn’t Muslim, in turn excommunicating the entire Ahmadiyya sect. A decade later the Ahmadis were even barred from ‘posing as Muslims’ following the Ordinance XX added to the Pakistan Penal Code.
Ahmadis are often referred to as ‘Qadianis’ everywhere including in the mainstream media. ‘Qadiani’ is a derogatory term for the community, both designed to eradicate their ideological affiliation with ‘mainstream Islam’ and also to further other them as inhabitants of Qadian, which is a town in Gurdaspur district and not in Pakistan.
Hence, Ahmadis do not like being called ‘Qadianis’ and instead prefer to be addressed as the Ahmadiyya community.
But we not only have taken away their basic human right as established in Article 20 – freedom of religion – of the same Constitution that apostatises them, and have established veritable religious apartheid by subjecting rights to one’s identity, we are also hell bent on using a jibe in place of a name that should be associated with a community.
Last Monday an Islamabad High Court (IHC) bench directed the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) to furnish a report on 10,205 Ahmadis who had changed their religious status from Muslim to ‘Qadiani’ in their ID cards.
Next day, the IHC bench asked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to provide travel details of 6,001 persons who changed their religious status from Muslim to ‘Qadiani’.
It was that the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause and the status of Ahmadis in the Election Reforms Bill, 2017 kept the state occupied for the final quarter of 2017, which not included political mudslinging, it was spearheaded by the Faizabad dharna that echoed with ‘Paen di siri’ and puked all over Pakistani democratic institutions, further cementing the mainstreaming of radical Islamists in politics.
In a truly democratic state, there should be no minorities, for all citizens would enjoy equal rights. And as much as we would like to tout an Islamic state as the epitome of positive treatment for minorities, the very fact that it establishes a Muslim-non-Muslim differentiation suffices in it not being the path to a modern day egalitarian state.
However, the eradication of discrimination should never be misconceived as the elimination of differences. A progressive pluralistic society embraces its groups, by celebrating the differences and by not using them as tools for marginalisation.
But it is very important to embrace those labels for others that they’ve chosen for themselves through self-identification. And for that, like any other tolerant democratic state, Pakistan must give its citizens the right to self-identify as enshrined in the constitution as a basic human right.
Therefore, labels such as ‘Dalits’ or ‘Qadianis’ should not be used if the communities in question do not endorse them.