Raheel Ali writes about being an Ahmadi in Pakistani, a tale as old as time, a tale of hope and despair and the longing to belong to one’s land, their mother at birth.
They say experience is the best teacher. Often, naïve people make the oft-repeated mistake of hoping, but the lens of objectivity only starts to fit in when hopes are painfully shattered over and over again. It might have helped if those who experienced this would share it with those who were still immature, but it seems that they too are adamant on making every person who adheres to that particular identity to go through the entire process, so everyone has a mark of pain of their own.
This mistake of hoping is repeated by every young Ahmadi in Pakistan while growing up, where the love for the country and the promise of better days obscures the ground realities of toxic hatred and maniac levels of intolerance.
The Ahmadi child, while being stripped of the right to self-identify and for the life earning a stigma of growing up a ‘Mirzai’ makes the naïve mistake of crying for their cricket team when they get defeated in a world cup. The same child goes around the streets of their neighborhood waving the green and the white flag of the country on the 14th of August, oblivious of the fact that they neither belong to the green nor the white in the land of the pure. The child then goes to school and cheers for Quaid-e-Azam, the 1965 war and all national heroes who fought for the ideological boundaries of the country, without knowing that this child and his community are the biggest perceived villains in the country in the present day and age.
The child is taught love for country at home and is taught about the looming justice from the unknown, that would bring an end to all discriminatory laws by his spiritual teachers. The child is given the hope that things would become much better when they grow up, and there would be no obstacle to success if they work hard enough.
The child works hard, conveniently downplays the attacks on their childhood worship places that result in the largest massacre ever in the community’s history, remains unaffected by their inability to vote because they are not eighteen yet, and in the hope that the laws would get changed when they come of age.
The child disregards the passport forms that require them to sign a clause declaring a person they’ve been taught to respect all their life as an impostor in order to qualify for an identity they most strongly resonate with. The child tries not to take to heart the fact that some of his best friends in school start considering him as an infidel, when he confides the secret that is never supposed to be let out ever in a moment of vulnerability.
The now almost young man turns a blind eye to stickers posted on almost every shop of his favorite electronic store that call for a restriction of his entry into their shops, and decides to ignore his conversation with the local shop owner in his neighborhood who stopped stocking on his favorite mango juice because it allegedly is owned by the people of his sect.
The young man has his heart in the gallows, when he sees his favorite Pakistani sportsman turned politician pass judgements over his faith over and over again in the buildup to two elections. But, the mantra ‘Things would get better’ still keeps the young lad going.
The entire capital is shut down over a clerical error concerning his community and overtaken by bearded goons waving sticks, the son in law of the incumbent prime minister goes on a hate speech rampage against them in the National Assembly of the country and a derogatory word representing the community is thrown around on television channels across the country as a kind of deep insult.
The young man finally starts to gain some clarity about the present scenario and the possible future outcomes. Then, there is a glimmer of hope – a young brilliant economist is given a chance to contribute for the country in an advisory role, perhaps the best Pakistani in the field, and the state does not discriminate on the fact that the person in question shares the same identity as the boy.
But alas – protests break out on the streets and the government is forced to take back its decision because religion has more importance in the country than merit. This acts as a final nail in the coffin, that last snooze on the alarm that finally is successful in waking the person up. The artificial curtain of obscurity curtailing objectivity finally comes off.
The likes of Salam and Zafarullah Khan have been sidelined and ignored, people of Atif Mian’s calibre have no place in the country, surely this young man would never be able to achieve that stature and even if there was a slight possibility, that would still mean nothing for the country.
This adult decides to pack up his stuff, and goes and explore places where merit is respected and something as abstract as belief is not used as a discriminatory tool.
Yet, there are days, because the heart does not retire. There are instances where there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, when there is a slight possibility that the country might become more inclusive and include a mere voice of perhaps its most educated as a sign of owning them up.
But this adult citizen of the world now treats these instances more objectively knowing fully well the history and the limitations of the state. Lo and behold, the country agrees on the fact that the community is a minority, but a dangerous enough minority to not even be included in a commission made for ‘minorities’.
This adult on an ending note might transgress from the practices of his family, ancestors and community, and instead of giving anyone a false sense of hope might just give them the hard truth at the table.
The clear-as-day truth, that the community has no hope or place in the country that they have accidentally been born in. The outside world, however, appreciates talent and skills and has had many immigrants before. It is a land of opportunity, where quality time should be spent learning and exploring rather than dealing with hate and intolerance 24/7. It is time to forget and move on.
The hate would eventually get diluted, and it won’t be able to keep up with the pace of our success. My country of birth is a lost cause.