As religious bigotry holds sway in Pakistan 'White In The Flag' stands up for minorities

By Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha

New Delhi, Apr 15 (IANS): For the last two days, Pakistan has been burning. Thousands of protesters of Tehreek-i-Labbaik in the country have been clashing with the police on the streets, demanding the immediate release of their chief Saad Rizvi.

Saad Rizvi, the chief of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore to "maintain law and order", said Ghulam Mohammad Dogar, chief of Lahore police.

Rizvi had called on the Imran Khan government to honour what he said was a commitment it made to TLP in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of the Prophet.

Saad Rizvi is the son of late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who protested last year against sacrilegious sketches in France and demanded expulsion of the French ambassador. Later on, the protesters led by him dispersed peacefully after the government reportedly assured him to take action in the matter.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the founder of TLP, literally came out of the blue. His launchpad was the 2011 assassination of Salman Taseer, the Pakistani politician who was then Governor of Punjab province, by his bodyguard. Rizvi was then an unknown government-employed cleric in Lahore. He took up the cause of Taseer's assassin Mumtaz Qadri, lauding him for killing a man who had come out in support of Asia Bibi, the jailed Christian woman accused of blasphemy. The government served Rizvi several warnings over his utterances before finally sacking him. After this, he threw himself into a campaign in support of blasphemy laws and for the release of Qadri. The PPP government was then considering a repeal or reform of the draconian laws, but had to shelve this. Rizvi demanded the recognition of Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr, the conversion of his Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site, the execution of Aasia Bibi, the removal of Ahmadis and other non-Muslims in key posts, and the assurance that the blasphemy laws would not be diluted.

Finally the Pakistani Army brokered a deal that was effectively a total surrender by the government. Not only was the amendment rolled back, the Law Minister also resigned after issuing an apology.

White In The Flag

The military-intelligence establishment's pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable. And Pakistan's minority communities are living under constant threats.

But that did not deter, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy from launching a project that informs people about minorities in Pakistan, the issues they face, the legislation used against them and how to seek help. Last month she launched a website "White In The Flag" a project to educate people about minorities in Pakistan and uplift their stories.

"Between forced conversions, abductions, terrorism at their places of worship, and targeted killings, Pakistan's minorities face an uphill battle just to exist," says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Karachi born Pakistani-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and activist. She is known for her work in films that highlight the discrimination against women. She is the recipient of two Academy awards, six Emmy awards and a Knight International journalism award.

The website has a section on minority stories in which it features films and podcasts on minorities. These include Representations of Minorities in the Media: Ahmadis, Representations of Minorities in the Media: The Mandir, the Defender, Minorities and Social Pariahism, Minorities and Section 295-C, The Story of Abdul Sattar Edhi and Kulsoom Hazara, the Karate Wonder.

Obaid Chinoy describes her website as an interactive one that aims to serve as a platform for students, activists, and legislators to come together and be able to discuss possible solutions to the various problems faced by religious minorities in Pakistan while providing a detailed record of the past, present, and future. Minority communities in Pakistan like Shias, Hazaras, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis have continued to be the victims of particularly harsh religious laws. At the time of its creation as a separate nation, Pakistan was envisioned as a progressive, democratic and tolerant society, which, while retaining a Muslim majority, would give equal rights to its non-Muslim citizens.

But the state of Pakistan has followed discriminatory policies against the minorities. Violent attacks, continued threats and religious hatred have been played by fundamentalist hardliners like TLP. Being home to several fundamentalist Islamic groups, the hate groups usually indulge in attacking the minority community members and promote sentiments against them. Issues such as forced conversions and marriages, land grabbing, target killings, neighbourhood arson and mob attacks, media representation and the blasphemy law are also highlighted, as are the punishments for the law.

"White In The Flag is a comprehensive collection of information on minorities in Pakistan and will hopefully make people more aware of an important section of our population," says Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.



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