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Pakistan: No democracy without secularism

Saturday 9 March 2013, by siawi3

No democracy without secularism, seminar told

Anil Datta
Sunday, January 27, 2013



There can be no democracy without secularism because in democracy there is no distinction between religious sects and groups, no preferential treatment, no distinction between the rich and the poor, the serfs and the barons, the capitalists and the workers. All have equal rights and privileges as citizens regardless of their religious affiliation.
These views were expressed by noted Human Rights worker, social activist, and journalist I.A. Rehman.
“Democracy is a journey the parameters of which change with time†, Rehman said, adding “To date there is no perfect democracy anywhere†.

He said the future of a stable, prosperous Pakistan depended on democracy. Pakistan, he said, direly needed democracy and for that in turn, it was imperative that Pakistan have secularism because secularism ensured equality regardless of religious affiliations and equality was the essence of prosperity.
He said that there was no system more democratic than secularism.

Recalling the past, Rehman said that unfortunately, we, from our very independence, had never bothered to set up a state in right earnest. “Democracy was thrown out of the window the day the objectives resolution was passed†, Rehman said.

He lamented that we had so many kinds of nationalism, Sindhi nationalism, Baloch nationalism, Pukhtoon nationalism, but there was no such thing as Pakistani nationalism. This, he said, was because of inequality in society which in turn resulted from a lack of democracy and lack of secularism because when there is no secularism and a religious group or sect gets precedence over another or when a group is relegated because it is not the favoured sect, inequality and hence a feeling of discontent arises which in turn breeds disruptive nationalism.

Dr Jaffer, Director, Pakistan Studies Centre, University of Karachi, in his highly erudite and lucid discourse, meticulously traced the history of governance and the blunders committed by successive governments and individuals since the early 1950s. Among the myriads of individuals he blamed for the precipitation of the present-day state of affairs was the late Baba-e-Urdu, Maulana Abdul Haq who, he said, in his English-Urdu dictionary, had translated secularism as “ladiniat†(atheism) and traced the meaning of the word to the stages of history and its evolution with the emergence of the modern scientific, technological world with the accompanying invention and discovery entailing a change in the human mind.
He favoured secularism because, as he said, it made the state neutral. The state had nothing to do with religious affairs but that certainly did not imply that the state forbade or relegated religion.

Secularism, Jaffer said, acknowledged the equal rights of all religions to co-exist. While religion could influence politics, the state remained neutral.
He said that back in 1953, even the Munir-Kayani report on the sectarian disturbances of 1953 had upheld secularism by unfolding the glaring contradictions of the clerics’ positions in their report.

He said that from the very beginning, the governments had been dealing pounding blows to secularism, and just as one of the many examples, cited the formation of the People’s Party, an absolutely democratic and purely secular set-up, by GM Syed and Wali Khan in 1948, which was immediately banned by the government and the two leaders detained.
He also cited how government functionaries had been approaching the US diplomatic missions to help them write anti-communist pamphlets decrying secularism in return for money.

Noted political leader Hasil Bizenjo, and Vice-President, Forum for Secular Pakistan, said that today, secularism was equated with “Kufr†. No leader, he said, had talked of secularism since Day One. He blamed the Objective Resolution for this trend. He regretted that not a single party, in their manifesto, had the word secularism. He said that this in turn had resulted in a situation of extreme religious hatred and cited the example of the Senate which refused to offer Fateha for a top political personality who had been rendered controversial. This extreme form of hatred, he said, was nothing but the result of total misunderstanding of the term, secularism, and its having become a swear word.

Winding up, Dr Haroon Ahmed, President, Forum for Secular Pakistan, eulogized the services of the Iqbal Haider, Ardeshaher Cowasjee, and Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, all three of whom are not in our midst any more and lauded the service they had rendered for the cause of secularism and democracy in the country.
He said that our successive rulers, to preserve their powers and privileges, had constantly appeased the bigots. He said freedom, justice, tolerance were essential to bring about a society free of inequality and distortions. For that, he said, democracy and secularism were imperative.

Javed Qazi, Secretary, Forum for a Secular Pakistan, compered the function. The seminar, titled, “Democracy and secularism in Pakistan†, was held by the Forum for a Secular Pakistan.