By Kamila Hyat
April 18, 2019
When 49 people were shot dead at a
Christchurch mosque in New Zealand last month, people across the country
changed their Facebook display pictures to mourn the incident.
In the days that followed, pictures of New
Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared prominently on social media
displays as well, as did the senseless calls inviting her to ‘embrace Islam’.
There have been very few profile pictures expressing grief over the relentless
killings of the Hazara minority in Quetta and other places.
The bomb blast last week that killed 20
persons including eight Hazaras at a vegetable market at one of the ghetto-like
areas within which the Hazara have been barricaded, has been followed by a
sit-in by the community in Quetta which has continued despite intermittent
heavy rain for days. The protest has been fleetingly covered by the media, and
the angry slogans or words spoken by protestors have gone unnoticed.
Most Pakistanis have in fact failed to
notice that over 500 Hazara people have been killed over the past five years in
what some are already calling a genocide. Apparently, too many of us suffer
from being able to look clearly only at events when they take place at a distance
and not those close to ourselves or in our own country. We lament loudly and
vocally, post social media pictures and demand action when people are killed in
Palestine, in Syria, in Kashmir or Muslims are targeted in Western countries.
We do not react at all when people, most of them Muslims, are mowed down at
home. We simply ignore the deaths, as if they had not occurred. Do our people
then have no right to exist, no real substance in the eyes of people? Have we
become oblivious to suffering and misery? Are we willing to allow entire
communities to be wiped away?
The Hazara suffer immensely. The flags
dotted atop grave tops in Hazara-dominated areas in Quetta tell their own
story. They tell tales of young men, women, and children killed as they went
about their daily business. No one listens to the sound of the wind as it whips
through the flagpoles. Certainly, our leaders have not listened over the years,
and today seem as indifferent as ever.
Hazara elders at the sit-in have made it
clear what their views are on the killings and the forces they think are behind
them. But can their voices, aired essentially over a YouTube channel run by the
community, ever be heard across a nation which seems simply not to care?
Certainly, the Hazara have made it clear that they will not be pacified by the
meaningless rhetoric spouted out by officials who visit such places of protest.
But someone must listen before it is too late.
It is not the Hazara alone who face
impending danger. Media outlets run by groups active for Kalash rights have
pointed out that various YouTube videos and material on other social media
accuse the Kalash of being immoral in many different ways and of engaging in
acceptable behaviours. All this is blatantly untrue and seems intended to
galvanise people against the 6,000 or so Kalash who continue to live in their
valleys in Chitral. In past years, too many have been forcibly converted or
subjected to threat of one kind or the other. Surely it is our duty as citizens
to protect those who remain and to discover who is behind the mindless
propaganda campaigns being run against a peaceful community with its unique
The primary goal must be to embrace
diversity and difference within our own country. It is this diversity which
gives Pakistan its many colours; colours which flow out beyond the green and
white of the flag. The growing lack of tolerance in our society means we
attempt to blend and mix and stir these colours until they form a single shade.
In so many ways, this destroys the beauty of a unique country. Its communities
too need to be given the same respect.
There are other groups also that we know
too little about and are essentially oblivious to their deprivation and to the
failure to accept that they form a part of Pakistan. These include the Sheedis,
a minority of African descent still living in Pakistan with festivals held in
parts of the country regularly, the Mohanas, a fisher folk tribe in Sindh, the
riverine Kihal people of Punjab and Sindh and many other groups we really know
very little about.
It is hardly surprising we know so little,
given that even when groups are larger and more prominent, we apparently seek
to wipe them out through a process of planned death and organized killing. The
organisations behind this are known to all of us. Shockingly, some of their
members are active within the political mainstream. Equally shockingly, we have
been able to place too few behind bars or to penalize the leaderships of these
groups. This has already created dangerous divisions within the country. More
will be carved out in the future.
It is worth noting how eloquently ordinary
people from within oppressed communities speak out about what needs to be done
and how. What we need is for far many more to hear these people. The mainstream
media of course has a major part to play in this. It has so far failed in its
task of bringing the people of the country together. Other forums too have to
be created, outside the offices of small organisations and in a wider public
space. The Hazara have attempted to create such a forum through their Dharnas
Other groups will undoubtedly follow as
they see no alternatives. Do we truly want desperation to spread? Leaders at
every level in the country should be thinking about this question and finding answers
in one form or the other. We must also act for the sake of the generations
which are to come.
The idea of a diverse, vibrant Pakistan
needs to be recreated. It existed within minds up till the 1980s. Before this
time, Quetta was a lively, vibrant city which had known plenty of joy, with all
its communities joining in to create this whole environment. We have allowed
darkness to creep in. The light needs to shine again. But this can only happen
if we discover the right set of reading glasses and are able to look at what is
close to us with the same clarity as we look at things far away.
We need to speak with passion about our own
country and not only about others. We need to ask why there are no images even
days after the terrible event, of Pakistani leaders doing what Jacinda Ardern
did and embracing people or comforting those who have suffered at a personal,
The prime minister’s scheduled visit to
Quetta comes nearly a week after the attack on the Hazara and amidst a social
media outcry. We need to ask why no actions have been taken to banish bombs and
guns and the hatred which allows them to be used. If we can find even a few
coherent responses, we will have come at least some way towards solving the
problems which have come to haunt us and which add layer upon layer of
suffering over a nation that needs to rediscover itself, rediscover its people
and acknowledge that they are all equally significant and worthy of respect.
Kamila Hyat is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.