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A White Trail


The other half of pakistan
KS NARAYANAN | New Delhi, November 22, 2013 14:57
Tags : A White Trail | Harood Khalid Westland |

Communal hatred, communal tension and communal riots are end result of the Divide – Rule Policy adopted by Britishers in the Indian Sub-Continent. Thanks to pains of partition, both India and Pakistan have treated their minorities with much disdain.  Though India could boast of pluralism and communal harmony and treating its minorities with greater till the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Gujarat Riots of 2002 and the recent Muzzafarnagar riots.  With each of the riots and carnage India’s tradition of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb has eroded. That is the story of India. What about Pakistan? Do they treat their 3 per cent of population minorities-Ahmadiyyas, Bahais, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians better?


Lahore based journalist working for The Friday Times, Haroon Khalid explores this question in his recent book- A White Trail.


To put it simply the book narrate tales of Pakistan’s religious minorities, who have culturally assimilated into the Islamic Republic, often taking on Muslim names in a hope to survive and thrive post-1947. For instance 45 year old Shazia Waleed, a Hindu convert to Islam currently working for a prominent global NGO was Sandhya Gupta before her parents were murdered in 1981.


Before we dwell further into the book there were compelling reasons for Khalid to investigate the minority debate as the author himself points out to thirst to learn about religions and histories with which history of Pakistan is inextricably intertwined. Popular discourse  on religious minorities is characterised either by negative propaganda or absence of Hindu and Sikh narrative in Pakistani historiography.


Khalid’s journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities takes him to the gurudwaras, the churches, and the temples - most of which are in ruins - thanks to the post-Partition riots and later as revenge for the demolition of Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992.


The journey to document their religious beliefs and folk tales wasn’t easy for Khalid for two reasons. First was whether the book will portray a negative image of Pakistan-as it was widely accepted that minorities were persecuted lot. Second challenge was the constant fear in the minds of the minorities, which would lead to self-imposed restrictions when responding to slightly controversial questions.


Khalid as a journalist deserves appreciation as he has explored status of minorities that go beyond victimization in face mighty Pakistani state fanning negative propaganda that has concretized as popular narratives over a period time, Islamist fundamentalists, and Pakistani’s skewed historiography.


“If the minorities are being persecuted, which indeed they are, and then there is a crying need to highlight those instances, with the process of rectifying it being a second step. The solution is definitely not to hide the dust under the carpet,” Khalid boldly asserts.


 Armed with reporter’s technique Khalid has engaged very well with his subjects.  Divided into five sections the book focuses on all the minority communities and it opens with a chapter on Holi in Multan in Punjab province and details how Parvati Devi ran for her life with her aged mother and sister when the mobs came for her in 1992.


 “We were out on the streets, three women, running away from the mob, which wanted to burn me alive. There were thousands of them, shouting ‘Nara-e-Takbir, Allah o Akbar’...”


Though the book records oral histories, it also is a good read for those who know little or nothing about the minorities, their culture and mythology associated with festivities.


As Muslims have a Wakf Board in India, Hindus in Pakistan have their Awqaf created during the tenure of General Ayub Khan to control administer, and collect revenue from shrines all over the country. Nothing interest Awqaf beyond revenue collection and takeover of property.


Islam preaches concept of brotherhood. But the concept of caste, Khalid observes have shaped up post-partition Pakistan. “Untouchables Hindus who converted to Islam are referred as Deendars and are mistreated as untouchables by the high caste Muslims,” he writes.


What haunts non-Muslims in Pakistan is two-nation theory and Pakistan is for the Muslims of India. “… the people of Pakistan end up believing Pakistan is for Muslims, India becomes a Hindu country and Europe and America become Christian” and he adds non-Muslims of the country need to exhibit loyalty to Pakistan at all times.


The book also brings several other issues connected with minority persecution in terms of their property rights, blasphemy laws, community rights, taxes. Interestingly authority continues to collect revenue for the Jinnah Fund that no longer exists!


Khalid also equally dissects politics, legal commercial angle to the question of minorities in the Islamic Republic Pakistan. No wonder he deserves all the kudos.

Author: Harood Khalid Westland

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-93-83260-23-2

Pages: 330

Price: Rs. 395

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017