As per Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s rhetoric of Pakistan, the country was liberated for the sole purpose of giving Muslims the right to practice religious duties freely, as Christophe Jaffrelot talks about this at length in his work ‘The Pakistan Paradox’. Jinnah looked at Indian Muslims as a ‘community’ that needed to be protected. Under this motto, Pakistan was not supposed to be a theocratic state, rather a place where people belonging to all religions would be treated equally despite their beliefs or religious affiliations. So, how and when did Pakistan change her notion of ‘identity’ as against the one put forward by her founder?
A religio-political party, that initially played an important role in Islamizing the state institutions, was Jamat-e-Islami (JI) of Pakistan. The party did not support the cause of Pakistan because it believed in pan-Islamism. But later, it started taking part in elections because its leaders believed that Pakistan was made in the name of Islam and hence, Islam needs to be the state religion of the country and all the laws should be promulgated as per the spirit of Shari’ah but the party did not clearly lay out the description of this form of governance. JI’s politics could not buoy until General Zia ul Haq’s dictatorship as it was suppressed by erstwhile governments. But General Zia shared authority with the party for a certain period to pursue his vaulting ambition of ‘Islamization’.
Zia’s regime was marked with certain laws that gave rise to sectarian conflicts and marginalization of religious minorities. He tried to pursue his political sakes under the garb of Islam, as the self-proclaimed guardian of the religion. Blasphemy related laws that were made during that era, continue to take lives of many people under false allegations and even the culprits are patronized as warriors.
Imran Khan’s government has completed four years of its tenure and the prevailing milieu vis-à-vis the religious tolerance in the country is in a meager state. Lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot over blasphemy allegations, brutal murder of a Hindu girl in Sindh for not accepting a marriage proposal, stoning a mentally unstable man to death for alleged Quran burning, are the recent examples of religious intolerance in Pakistan to name a few.
Pakistan and India aimed to follow different trajectories after partition, with former establishing a secular republic and latter giving a safe haven to people belonging to all religions. India was to be a secular country as per the model set by Jawaharlal Nehru who was the country’s inaugural prime minister. India has been struggling to define its identity since its inception, just like Pakistan, because of heterogeneous groups present in the country. Hindu nationalism has been predominant since the arrival of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power. BJP is backed by far right, fascist group ‘RSS’ that believes in Hindutva - declaring India to be a country to preserve Hindu identity and culture at the stake of other religious minorities.
The significant events during Modi’s regime that depict party’s anti-Muslim and xenophobic narrative include, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 which depicts bigotry with regards to Muslim and non-Muslim migrants, revocation of Article 370 of India’s constitution in Kashmir that previously ensured special rights to Muslim majority area Kashmir, a recent tussle over hijab ban in Karnataka, and beating a Muslim man to death by cow vigilantes which was later masqueraded as a personal grievance.
The grim scenario in the two neighboring countries depicts the failure of their authorities that have always strived to fulfill their personal vendettas by sacrificing the lives of common people on altar. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2022 report, has placed India and Pakistan in the list of ‘countries of particular concern’ for not giving adequate freedom of religion to the citizens. Religious vigilantism, if not given a timely attention, will prove to be catastrophic for the countries which struggled hard for decades to get out of the shackles of colonialism.