Discriminatory attitudes towards religious minorities do not only emanate from extremists and terrorists. An even more invidious, almost subconscious discriminatory profiling seems to be second nature in our society.
To expect then that the authorities would be exempt from such hateful stances would be wishing for the moon. One recent example to illustrate the issue is an advertisement put out by the tehsil administration of Bannu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the post of 14 sweepers.
The advertisement ran that the posts were open to Christians, Hindus and Shias. It added the pearl of wisdom that these posts were open to “all genders” in a specific age group. This howler of an advertisement was rightly taken up and roundly criticised on the social media. In response to the furore, the administration in question quickly offered a retraction, calling the inclusion of Shias “a mistake”.
Nowhere did the retraction mention or apologise for the discriminatory profiling of Christians and Hindus as ‘fit’ only for such menial, low paid jobs. The reason for this is that in the case of the Shias being mentioned, this was a first even for our benighted authorities. The likelihood of Shias being less than pleased at such categorisation no doubt fed into the retraction and half-apology.
However, in the case of the Christians and Hindus, no such compunctions were felt since this was considered the ‘norm’. This attitude stems from hateful, discriminatory attitudes and practices rooted in our unstated and officially unrecognised caste prejudices, inherited from tradition and the past, and internalised subliminally so completely as not to even raise an eyebrow. Pakistanis are very fond of reminding the world that they are Muslims and that their country is an Islamic state.
But they never pause to consider that this majoritarian identity ignores, marginalises, and condemns to the periphery all members of other religions (and even non-majority sects within Islam). Such marginalisation and relegation of religious minorities to an ‘unclean’ status fit only for ‘unclean’ jobs goes to the heart of our subliminally received and unconsciously practised caste prejudices. The ‘unclean’ status of Christians is what led to the quarrel between Aasia Bibi and some Muslim women over drinking water from the same utensil. Aasia was then accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death on that score. This is not an isolated example. In our everyday lives, in our homes and workplaces, caste prejudices are at work, but few of us have the courage to call a spade a spade or resist such discriminatory practices.
Caste hangovers from the past, combined with religious extremism and narrowness, not to mention the factor of class, come together as a conjuncture of deep-rooted hatreds and discrimination. The victims are treated not only as second class citizens, but even more alarmingly, as second rate human beings.
Islam does not recognise caste, let alone allow behaviour motivated by deep rooted caste prejudices subliminally internalised from the past. And on the touchstone of humanity and citizenship, the latter having enshrined in the Constitution the golden principle of no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, gender, etc, this is indeed a shameful hangover that must be opposed wherever and whenever it manifests itself, as well as educate and make aware the public of the wrong they consciously or inadvertently are committing.
Nine chances out of ten, if the Bannu advertisement had not been taken up on the social media (kudos to our enlightened citizens who felt compelled to do so), it would have probably passed without a murmur. After all, it was not the first such advertisement. And given the lingering prevalence of caste prejudice within our very being, it is unlikely to be the last unless we wake up and eradicate this malignancy.