Pakistan Times is grateful for Mr. Tahir Ali who is a feature writer with The News. Moreover this article has been published in The News.
The population of Mardan is around two millions according to the latest estimates. Apart from the 99% majority Muslim population, there is a notable presence of different minority groups. Christians constitute the biggest minority group in Mardan and their number stand at around six thousand or 0.3% of the whole population. The community heads of the Hindus/Sikhs and Qadianis/Ahmadis put their number at 500 (0.02%) and 600 (0.03%) respectively. Christians have been living here for about a couple hundred years while Hindus/Sikhs claim a 900-years old stay in Mardan. The former have four Churches here-one used by Catholics, the other by Brotherns and two by the Protestants- St. Paul’s Church ( the Sarhadi Luthern Church) Mardan is the biggest one and is a part of the Northern Diocese Mardan- a setup recently contrived to adminsiter the Churches and work for the welfare of the Christian Community from Nowshera to Gilgit and Chitral.
For Hindus/Sikhs, there are three functional Mundirs/Gurdawaras. They practise and expound a denomination of Hinduism/Sikhism which seems to be a combination of the two and quite distinct from what is seen in India. While Christians have a separate School for their children- being funded and administered by the Church of Peshawar- there is no such facility for the other minority groups. The Qadiani/Ahmadi community doesn’t have an open worship-place here- There was one some years back but it is desolate now. Majority of the Christians are public or private servants. The Hindus/ Sikhs are mostly business minded. The Qadianis/Ahmadis too are predominantly traders and infact some of the business tycons in Mardan come from this community while some of them are public and private employees as well.
The News on Sunday (TNS) decided to peep into the minds and hearts of the minorities living in Mardan to get a first-hand knowledge of their present conditions, problems, demands and future concerns. Rev’d Majid Masih, 50, – the Priest Inharge of St. Paul’s ( Sarhadi Luthern) Church and The Guide’s Church Mardan- and Priest Waseem Ayaz, 35 – the Vice-Chairman ( clergy) Northren Diocese Mardan, Rawail Chand, 55 and Ashok Kumar Kapur, 35 – the President and General Secretary of the Hindu/Sikh Sudhar Sabah respectively- and Naeem, 65 -the District Amir of, what he called, Jamat-e-Ahmadia Mardan were approached.
In the very ouset, Priest Majid, Priest Waseem and Ashok Kumar condemn the recently issued blasphemous Dutch film-The Fitnah- and the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and dub it as an insane step and misuse of the freedom of expression.
A Culture of peace or Victimization?
Rawail Chand, who also heads the Community Temple at Babu Mohallah Mardan, and Ashok Kumar say Pakistan is their mother land. Pakistani majority, they all think, is far better than its Indian counterpart. “We have lived here for centuries. Save some ugly acts of religious intolerance in the charged environment in the aftermath to the partition, relations between the two communities have always been based on mutual respect, tolerance and goodwill, ” declares Rawail. Ashok recalls how his community given moral support and assured full protection by the majority Pukhtoons after the Babri Masjid tragedy. He ascribes this culture of peace to Islamic teachings as well as the traditions of Pukhtoons. Ashok thinks for a while and adds that they cannot go elsewhere as, according to him, he personally knows many who left for India but are remorseful now because of negligence and alienation there for being ‘Muhajirs’.
Priest Majid also seconds his thoughts. “We have been living in Mardan for centuries but Muslims always respected us. The people and administration are kind and cooperative to us. Himayatullah Mayar, the District Nazim Mardan, constructed a guard room inside the Guide’s Church and on this Easter- on the 23rd of March- full security was provided to us,”he says. Naeem praises the majority population for its good behaviour but adds that there are always vested interests every where. He, however, is disinclined to share his problems and concerns but thanks the TNS to be the first paper to seek their opinion.
“There can be no world peace without peace among religions, no peace among religions without dialogue among them and no dialogue between the religions without accurate knowledge of one another,” says Ashok Kumar. Priest Waseem also says his community is for interfaith harmony through interfaith dialogue. But Priest Majid and Ashok Kumar emphasize that the main objective of dialogue and communication should be to highlight the commonalities between different religions. Waseem says they plan to organise a seminar an interfaith dialogue in the coming days to promote goodwill among the religious groups. Ashok kumar thinks security is as much a problem for the majority as it is for the minority. ” It is our collective suffering and one should not blow out of proportions incidents of violence in which non-Muslims get harmed,” he emphatically opines and hopes that with the installation of the new moderate government, the trend of lawlessness and terrorism would subside, if not vanish altogether.
Where do they stand politically?
Minorities mainly keep themselves aloof from political process and prefer to side by the ruling parties. Qadianis in particular remain distant from politics. Naeem declares that they are law-abiding citizens and informs that his community is religiously bound to obey the rulers. Some of the members of the other minority groups, however, do have penetrated into the mainstream parties to be able to save ” ourselves from political victimization”as put by a community leader who wishes not to be named. Rawail Chand is all praise for Z.A. Bhutto. ” Zia marginalizd the minorities while Musharraf got us involved in the political process,” he says.
Ashok Kumar highly lauds the services of M. P. Bhandara, the former Federal Minority Affairs Minister, for the uplift of minorities in Pakistan. All these minority leaders are unsatisfied with the present ratio of reserved minority seats in assemblies and their mode of election. They narrate how their own community representatives refuse to oblige them saying that they are appointees of political parties, not ours.
Priest Majid and Ashok Kumar urge increase in these seats and say that even if minority candidates are party ticket holders, minorities should be given double votes and authorized to directly elect their representatives from amongst the contending minority candidates as is the case in the Local Bodies elections. Vis-a-vis minoritis’ representation in the Frontier Assembly, they suggest that the province be divided into three regions- central, southern and northern- and at least a seat be allocated to each region with the minorities living there to directly vote for these seats. They also seek reserved female minority seats in National and Provincial Assemblies as well as representation in Senate.
What do they ask, wait for?
They all demand revival of the special minority quota in jobs and opine that its rescinding in 1995-96 has dealt them a severe blow. Ashok Kumar urges the revival of District Minority Board (DSB) which, according to him, was a very effective and speedy mechanism for the redressal of minority grievances. Priest Majid Masih says at present a District Religious Harmony Committee is at work but requests immediate restoration of the DSBs. Rawail vehemently advocates and demands the exemption of temples from rent. He also suggests a permanent permit system/visa card between India and Pakistan to facilitate visits of the minorities to their relatives and friends. Ashok reminds that minorities are denied Zakawt money though Islam allows it to them.
He also reminds that National Commission for Minorities in its meeting on 02-2005 discussed the issues of illegal sale and transfer of communal property by the land mafia and constituted a sub-committee to prepare a report on the issue but that is still awaited. They all say they stand neglected in the official housing schemes and insist that their due share be given to them in the housing scheme announced by the PM Gilani recently. They want that the money and number of scholorships for the minorities be increased.
Priest Majid Masih informs that at present all innovations and repairs are bing carried out on self-help basis.” The Government of Pakistan should provide funds for the purpose,” adds Waseem. He also tells TNS that the Northren Diocese Mardan has prepared various plans for social sector but is unable to launch them for paucity of funds. ” We are ready to invest 20% of the total money. Will the Social Welfare Department provide the rest of the money?” he asks.