- By Sajjad Shaukat
Although Diwali or Deepavali is the spiritual festival of Hindus, yet it is also celebrated by the followers of Buddhism,, Jainism and Sikhism who observe various customs related to Diwali. Besides India, it is also commemorated in in Pakistan, Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Maritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka etc.
The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five-day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest—new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Karitika in Birkram Sambat calendar. Diwali night falls between mid-October and mid-November. People in different regions in India may celebrate Diwali on various dates. This is because traditional lunar calendars can be interpreted in different ways.
Its celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed.
Many people make a special effort to clean their homes and yards before Diwali. They may also wash themselves with water and fragrant oils, wear new clothes and give gifts of sweets to family members, close friends and business associates. Fireworks are set off in the evening in some areas. Melas (fairs) are held in many towns and villages.
As regards Pakistan, Diwali festival is also celebrated, as tens of thousands of Hindus are living in this country and like other religious minorities, they enjoy all the rights as the citizens of Pakistan.
It may be recalled that during the PPP government, August 11 was official declared National Minorities Day by the former President Asif Ali Zardari in 2009 in line with the historic speech of founder of the nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. In his speech, Quaid-e-Azam said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
There have been numerous Non-Muslims who have risen to the rank of Brigadier; and in the 1990, the first Christian promoted to the Rank of Major General was Julian Peter who commanded the 14th Div in Okara Cantt. Capt. Hercharn Singh, the first Sikh as Commissioned Officer in Pakistan Army.
Particularly, a Rana Bhagwandas was the first Hindu and the non-Muslim who was appointed acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan for a few days in 2005 and 2006, during the absence of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the country. He was again appointed as acting Chief Justice of Pakistan during the judicial crisis in 2007. After retirement from the Supreme Court, Bhagwandas was appointed as the Federal Public Service Commission.(FPSC) chairman in November 2009.
However, in the same speech, Quaid-e-Azam said, “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between ones caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens of one state.”
It is mentionable that in accordance with the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, the Constitution of 1973 protects the real rights and interest of minorities, living in Pakistan.
Every year, on August 11, Pakistan officially celebrates the National Minorities Day to honour the services and sacrifices, rendered by religious minorities for the country over the years. This very day also recognizes the contribution and sacrifices of minorities in creation of Pakistan and nation-building.
On this occasion, events, seminars and social gatherings are arranged across the country by members of various religious minorities and the ministry of National Harmony.
Shahid Mairaj, the Dean of the Cathedral stated in his message, on August 11, 2015 stated, “The governing principle is to let people of every faith live in peace as they choose, and understand that the state belongs to everyone. This country is our mother, and it is a duty for all of us to help it to advance and flourish.”
In this regard, Member Punjab Assembly and minorities’ leader Najmi Saleem remarked, “Minorities in Pakistan have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens”.
Minister Incharge for National Harmony Dr. Paul Bhatti said, “The Minorities Day provides us an opportunity to renew the pledge for the promotion of tolerance and interfaith harmony as in a pluralistic society, there can always be a divergence of opinion on a number of issues, but these differences can be solved through interfaith harmony which means a cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religions, traditions, faiths, and spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at all levels.”
He acknowledged by pointing out, “Many steps have been taken by the Government for the protection and promotion of minorities like the reservation of 5 percent quota in Government jobs/services, enhancement representation in the parliament, declaration of August 11 as the Minorities Day, including observance of optional holidays and celebration of the festivals of minorities at official level”.
A Sikh leader, Sardar Bishan Singh shared similar thoughts and pointed out that all citizens of Pakistan worked together for the growth of the country.
It is notable that the Ministry of National Harmony was formed after the devolution of Ministry of Minority Affairs to acknowledge the sacrifices and services of minorities to promote peace, patience and tolerance for creating an understanding and brotherhood among the people of different schools of thought.
Nevertheless, since the formation of Pakistan, minorities are contributing in every sphere of life and their political involvement is also worth appreciating.
But, it is regrettable that in the recent years, with the support of anti-Pakistan groups like Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), Jundullah and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS (Also known as Daesh, ISIL), including their affiliated outfits, Indian secret agency RAW which has well-established its network in Afghanistan arranged a number of terror-attacks on Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus in order to distort the image of Pakistan abroad.
In this connection, some terror-events might be cited as instance. In May, 2009, Indian backed militants had forcibly taken over the shops and homes of the 35 Sikh families in the Orakzai Agency in Pakistan. On May 28, 2011 armed assaults on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore killed more than 70 people. More than 80 people died and 150 injured when two suicide attackers struck the All Saints Church in Peshawar on September 22, 2013. On March 17, 2015, at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked churches in Lahore. In 2016, these terror attacks continued particularly in Balochistan. Indian supported TTP and ISIS claimed responsibility for these terrorism-related assaults. In this context, investigations showed that RAW was behind these subversive acts. In fact, besides other terror attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Balochistan and Karachi, assaults on religious communities are part of the Indian scheme to create chaotic situation in Pakistan, because it is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World. In the recent years, the foreign-backed terror groups also targeted Hindus in the Sindh province to defame Pakistan.
While, India which claims an arch secular state has surprised the world because of continued attacks on other minority groups, especially Christians, Muslims and Sikhs—and events of forced conversion of Christians and Muslims into Hindus.
Unlike India, where religious minorities are being targeted by the Hindu fundamentalist groups like the ruling party BJP, RSS, Shiv Sena etc., all the minorities such as Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Budahists enjoy fundamental rights in Pakistan, including all other rights of citizenry in Pakistan.
Pakistan which came into existence on the basis of Islamic principles to provide respect and protection to all the segments of society is giving full safety to all the minorities as mentioned in the Constitution. Besides minority groups are not only serving in the armed forces, but are also working in other departments. Without any discrimination by the Muslims, they also run their own business and are working in private sectors.
Nonetheless, Diwali festival is also commemorated in Pakistan. Especially in Sindh, Muslims also participate in Diwali celebrations and give gifts sweets and flowers to their Hindus friends. We may concude that religious minorities are quite safe in Pakistan.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations