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Sight Magazine – Essay: At 75, Pakistan has drifted away from the secular, democratic vision of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah


This month marks the 75th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence and its partition from British India into a devastating process which uprooted more than 15 million people and caused between one and two million deaths. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs – communities that have coexisted for hundreds of years – have all participated in sectarian violence. Countless people bore the scars of these events over many generations.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, sought to create a democratic, egalitarian and secular country where the Muslims of the subcontinent, who constituted approximately 25 percent of the population, could enjoy full equality. For most of his life he sought to achieve this equality within an India with an undivided Hindu majority. Later he became convinced that a separate homeland was necessary to achieve such equality.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah announces the creation of Pakistan on All India Radio, June 3, 1947. Photo: Unknown author/Via Wikipedia

Today, widespread and growing violence against indian muslims under Prime Minister Narendra Modi right-wing, Hindu nationalist rule seems to confirm Jinnah’s fears.

Jinnah died just a year after the birth of Pakistan. Like a South Asia specialistI know that in the years since, the military and business elite have consolidated their power and helped shape a country that bears little resemblance to their vision – though many still fight for it.

“Ideology and religion are divisive forces in Pakistan today – from sectarian violence against Shia Muslims to state blasphemy laws that allow the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. Religion , as interpreted by the state, plays an important role in politics and governance.An example of its harmful role can be seen in the degradation of the rights of Ahmadis, members of a religious minority targeted by the state. Other religious minorities also face discrimination, with Christians facing particularly harsh treatment.”

pakistan today
Ideology and religion are dividing forces in Pakistan today – from sectarian violence against Shia Muslims to the state blasphemy laws which allow the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. Religion, as interpreted by the state, plays an important role in politics and governance. An example of its harmful role can be seen in the deterioration of the rights of Ahmadismembers of a religious minority targeted by the state.

Other religious minorities are also victims of discrimination, the Christians subjected to particularly harsh treatment. According Research bench statistics, 75% of Pakistanis say blasphemy laws are necessary to protect Islam, while only 6% say blasphemy laws unfairly target minorities.

Pakistan also remains on a turbulent political and economic trajectory. The military has directly controlled the state for most of its existence, with four military coups and decades of military rule since 1958. The military and notorious intelligence services remain live control of internal and external policymaking decisions to protect their power and economic interests, including vast commercial farms.

Economically, Pakistan has lagging behind other developing countries, with debt as high as 71.3% of its GDP. Inequality is highthe richest 10% of households holding 60% of the national wealth and the poorest 60% owning only 10%.

The elite evade taxes on a large scale, contributing to the economic instability of the country. While millions live in great poverty and hungergovernment spending to alleviate poverty is among the the lowest In the region. Dissidents, human rights activists and journalists Face censorship and repression.

Jinnah had hoped for much better.



Jinnah: an advocate for Muslims in British India
Born in Karachi in 1876 to a Muslim family, Jinnah was educated first at a local Muslim school and then at the Christian Missionary Society High School in Karachi.

At 16, Jinnah was sent to London, where he decided to study law. After returning to India, he established himself in Bombay as a successful and eloquent lawyer.

Jinna joined the Indian National Congress in 1906, part of India’s largest political party organizing for independence from British colonial rule. At this time, he was the main proponent of harmony between Hindus and Muslims in India and pursued a united front strategy against the British.

He considered himselfa convinced congressmanand rejected the political organization that separated Muslims and Hindus in India. As a result, Jinnah delayed joining the All-India Muslim League, the political party formed to represent the rights and concerns of Muslims in British India, until 1913. For years he remained a member of both gone.

Jinnah’s concerns about Hindu nationalism
Jinnah’s faith in the Congress party would wane, and he resigned in 1920. He was increasingly concerned about Congress’s growing emphasis on India. Hindu identity and the lack of political representation of the country’s Muslim minority.

Jinnah was also deeply troubled by the emergence of right-wing Hindu nationalist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSSa violent paramilitary group that drew inspiration from European fascist partiesopposed Muslim-Hindu unity and increasingly sought to force Muslims to convert or leave India.

In 1934 Jinnah was unanimously elected president of the Muslim League and he continued to advocate for the rights of Muslims in a unified India. He did not agree to divide the Indian subcontinent into separate Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority areas. until the 1940s.

During this period, escalating sectarian violence fueled by Hindu and Muslim right-wing groups and Congress’s refusal to accept a federation in which Muslim-majority areas enjoyed greater political representation contributed to prohibit an alternative to the score. During this period, Jinnah stressed that Muslims would never enjoy security and full equality in the Hindu-majority nation.

Jinnah eventually led the Muslims of India to form their own nation with the creation of Pakistan in 1947. He insisted that this new nation be a secular democratic country with equal rights for all who resided there.


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Jinnah’s vision for a secular Pakistan
Jinna stressed the need for secular education improve the social and economic conditions of the Muslim community, advocated for gender equality and argued for the abandonment of the parda, or veil.

Jinnah has not written a book or memoir, but his speeches provide insight into his vision for Pakistan. Notably, his speech days before becoming Pakistan’s first president, delivered on August 11, 1947, expressed his secular aspirations for the newly formed country. In this one he stress“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You can belong to any religion, caste or belief – it has nothing to do with affairs of state.

Four days later, on August 14, 1947, British India was divided into the independent nations of Pakistan and India. As Pakistan’s first president, Jinnah again underlined his secular view of the new country, saying“We begin at the time when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another… We are all citizens and equal citizens of ‘a state.”

Jinnah’s Dream Unfulfilled
The making of Jinnah remains a milestone of the 20th century. But 75 years later, Pakistan is far from the country it envisioned.

The people of the region, nostalgic for a unified country and aware of the suffering during the partition and beyond, sometimes express that it would have been better if they had not been divided according to their religious identity but had instead continued the fight for a pluralistic society with equal rights for all. Others argue that Jinnah was right to conclude that Muslims in India faced continued violence and were treated as second-class citizens in a Hindu-majority country.

What is certain is that Jinnah’s dream of a compassionate homeland for the subcontinent’s minorities remains unrealized. But glimmers of it survived in the movements and people who continued to dream of a more equitable, inclusive and just Pakistan.

For example, landless Christian and Muslim farmers in peasant movement, one of South Asia’s largest and most successful land rights movements, resisted violent efforts to quash their demands for a more equitable society. Some 80,000 lawyers were part of the lawyers movement, who challenged the power of the military and fought for free and independent justice. And individuals like human rights activists Sabine Mahmoud paid with their lives for their dream of a just and pluralistic Pakistan.

And while Pakistan today is far from Jinnah’s vision, the work of these people and movements reflects the famous words of the most famous revolutionary poetFaiz Ahmed Faiz: “We have to [continue to] look for that promised dawn.The conversation

Farah N Jan is a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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