Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Minority Speak

After reading from Tehelka and Aaj Tak about the way we treat our minorities in some parts of the country and then gloat about it, I watched this TV news feed where a Sikh cadet was just commissioned into the Pakistan Army. Till that newscast, the only other minority I had heard of who was holding some post of distinction in Pakistan was a Hindu, Justice Bhagwan Das, who was officiating as the Supreme Court chief justice. Of course, I am sure there must be more at other levels like for Danesh Kaneria in their cricket team but we don’t hear of them much
In a sense there is nothing unusual about this – Pakistan is an Islamic state but inspite of the many attempts at Islamization, strands of other original vision of a secular state do survive and find utterance through such instances. But I wonder if people like this, religious minorities in an avowedly religious state at least officially lead a schizophrenic existence with an identity that only complicates life in many situations. Partly it is complicated because Pakistan itself seems some times to be a confused identity – not quite an Islamic state like the Taliban’s Afghanistan or even theocratic Iran where minorities know their place (next to nothing!) or a avowedly secular state where religious identity does not mater – most of Europe at perhaps!

I wonder what goes through the minorities’ mind. The thought of a Sikh soldier shouting Jo Bole Sonehal and charging at an Indian soldier seems to be a little incomprehensible. Try to picture this mentally. A large number of the Sikh Gurus lost their lives at the hands of the Mughal emperors and the Sikh war cry was coined in the battlefields fighting Muslims. The turban that Harcharan Singh wears is a symbol of the Khalsa, a military style brotherhood created when the initially pacifist community established by Guru Nanak was under threat of annihilation by the Muslims. Yet the Sikh officer Harcharan Singh shortly after the passing out parade has to assure his countrymen that if and when the time comes, the Sikhs would prove no less loyal than their Muslim brothers.

Who was the enemy in mind when Harcharan Singh made the statement? The pro Taliban militia that the Pakistan Army is fighting on the Eastern borders? Unlikely. No one’s heart in Muslim Pakistan would have wanted to hear that a Sikh officer would go the extra mile in fighting a battle which a large section of the Pakistan Army believes to be fratricidal in nature and which they are carrying out largely out of political and other compulsions. It is obvious that the young Sikh officer was making these comments alluding to India as the shadow enemy. But the fact that he had to make such a statement is significant.

The minorities have this peculiar need that they need to deal with; the perennial need to make known that they are loyal and though the article in Indian Express was the one that caught my attention and the article referred to Pakistan, the same holds true in India as well. Much like the medieval serf from whom nothing was explicitly demanded but a tribute was always expected, minorities, not only are often expected to cough up the tribute to the mai baap majority but deliver it up front the at the first instance or be taught a lesson by the likes of Narendra Modi and this appears to be true as much as in theocratic Pakistan ruled by the blasphemy laws as much as in secular India with its Freedom of Religion Laws

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