OVER A COFFEE: Bridging the gap between faith and reality —Dr Haider Shah
When religious minorities are treated in this contemptuous way by presenters of TV shows, we create a very unhealthy atmosphere of distrust and mutual animosity
Every year on the eve of Ramazan, I recall an Urdu writer’s observation that in this month we are warned against bad deeds so much that one feels we will have a licence to do anything in the remaining 11 months. We are required to believe whatever we are told even if the reality around us is markedly different. For instance, prices of food commodities go up during the month, which establishes that the demand for food actually goes up even though it is claimed that fasting helps in controlling our appetite for food. Similarly, the loss of productivity during the month could have been compensated by some gains in peacefulness as all the faithful attend religious duties with greater enthusiasm. The bloodshed from Karachi to FATA, however, has seen no reversal during the month.
Even courts do not appear to be maintaining their good record during the month. One specific example is the restraining order passed by the Supreme Court against the joint investigation team set up by government for investigating the affairs of Arsalan Iftikhar and Riaz Malik. Being an ardent supporter of the rule of law, I have been writing in support of the Supreme Court’s excellent record in this regard. The latest ruling in my view however has not helped the cause of the judiciary in projecting an image of impartiality and independence. No doubt, the honourable court has the constitutional power under Article 187 to issue such directions, orders or decrees as may be necessary for doing complete justice in any case or matter pending before it, but it has to remain mindful of the fact that exercise of these powers should not create a perception of undue interference. Critics can argue that it does not suit the judiciary to interfere with the investigation of a case in which it might be seen by a section of public opinion as a party. Once the investigations are completed, the case would come before the courts and at that stage, the defendant’s lawyer can level the charge of malicious prosecution and malafide. It is therefore important that if the judiciary wants to maintain its dexterously carved image of impartiality, it must give investigators a free hand so that no one can complain that it bulldozed cases where it was perceived to be an interested party.
Religions are socially constructed, Emile Durkheim, an eminent sociologist, tells us. We see this social construction at its best during the month of Ramazan. With the proliferation of private channels, we can see that new layers of ceremony are being added to the month. There is a new breed of corporate sermonisers whose activities make it difficult to spot the boundaries between corporate greed and real faith. The entrepreneurial corporate opportunists have turned the anti-capitalist guerrilla leader, Che Guevara, into a saleable commodity as we see his image on T-Shirts and other merchandise. In Pakistan, we see that the corporate world has gained full control of the month of Ramazan as it controls the TV channels. Why should one worry about this? Simple answer. Because in their bid to browbeat each other, various TV anchors and presenters appear to have lost all sense of proportionality and are fanning dangerous flames.
I had once written about the cataclysmic prophecies pertaining to the current year as per the Mayan calendar. A programme hosted by a TV hostess, Maya Khan was cited in my piece as one of the early indications of the horrors of the year. Finding refuge in a new channel, the uncaring presenter seems to be determined to carry on with her trademark feats. In order to gain cheap popularity by arousing the religious fervour of impressionist viewers, she used a Hindu boy as a sellable commodity to earn good ratings for her programme and the channel. Article 36 of our constitution places a duty upon the state to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the minorities. Quaid-e-Azam in his address to the Constituent Assembly had used the example of Britain to emphasise that in Pakistan the state would not concern itself with the religious matters of its citizens. To my utter shock and horror, the stunt-orchestrating hostess showed the conversion of faith by a citizen of Pakistan as a form of entertainment. More alarmingly, institutionalised hypocrisy seems to be well entrenched because barring a few murmurs, no condemnation has taken place, neither at media level nor from the so-called progressive government.
One of my earlier pieces narrated the story of Islam Bibi whose alleged conversion to Islam became the source of a serious law and order problem in 1936 as the Hindu community was pitted against the local Muslim community led by the Fakir of IPI. The national situation is far more sensitive and inflammable nowadays and people in the media have a great duty of care to the nation. When religious minorities are treated in this contemptuous way by presenters of TV shows, we create a very unhealthy atmosphere of distrust and mutual animosity. Just a few days ago, a news item appeared in a section of the press that 11 Christian nurses were poisoned as they did not observe fasting. The news item may prove untrue but such claims by the leaders of minority communities should be seen as evidence of something far more sinister going on in society. Regaining the trust and love of the minorities should, therefore, be the best resolve of the holy month if we want to see its promised blessings manifest themselves in reality.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org