South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Afiya Shehrbano

Several human rights activists in Pakistan have observed the ‘double jeopardy’ that enables the systematic mass murders of the Hazara community in Balochistan. Their ethnic facial features make them identifiable and easy targets to be punished for the crime of being Shia. Urban ghettoisation helps to corner them. Internal prejudices assist in building a narrative that suggests that all Muslims are not equal anyway.
Several well-meaning, troubled citizens despair in disbelief and attempt to deflect the cause of such faith-based hate and terrorism. Some pretend this is all to do with America, India, Israel and the war on terror, thus erasing three decades of hate literature, preaching and internal competitiveness and/or the nexus of organised religious groups vying for the title of ‘Best Good Muslim’. Others argue that this is all due to madressahs, Arab funding, Wahabist/Salafist influence and Iran’s interference.
Pakistanis just don’t like to take ownership of either the cause or effects of the theocratisation of the state, so how can one expect them to be clear about the required response to crimes inspired by faith? They also like to believe that secular resistance is no antidote to a religious state that is committed to the hegemony of the majoritarian religion and sect.
It is only the Hazara community, perhaps, that recognises the failure of the state, religious leaders and sympathetic fellow-Pakistanis to guarantee equal rights to any minority. This explains their powerful, creepily peaceful yet utterly subversive response to the systematic killings and efforts to cleanse them off the map of the country. The politics of not burying their dead is not a demand for attention or security, nor is it about recognition of their grief.
The Hazaras’ refusal to observe the prescribed Muslim practice of immediate burial of the dead is a politically ironical response to those who target them as non- or lesser Muslims. Their exhibition of the coffins in public demonstrations is even a mocking reclaiming of space from those who would deny their religion or citizenship. More importantly, non-burial and the public display is a secular resistance by those who live on and who deploy such tactics with the aim of reclaiming religious pluralism.
In another part of Balochistan, the excavation of some graves and bodies cannot fail to remind us of the violence perpetrated by the state. The only resolution the state can come up with is to legalise the process of forced disappearances in which case there will be no need to hide victims in unmarked graves.
Reburial is critical to reclaim the right to equal citizenry and faith because more than being simply illegal and profane, collective burials strip the victims of individual identity. Mass graves attempt to bury collective ethnic or religious identities. But an individual grave is a testament to one’s life and not just one’s death. It is the ultimate mark of individual identity and if one’s body is unceremoniously, collectively and secretly dumped en masse, it denies him his citizenship and individuality and is an attempt to erase the sacrifice and memory of the victim’s political cause.
Such violations interrupt the process of reconciliation with the end of a life. Late burials and reburials are a way for communities to reconcile – not just with the matter of death but these rites and marked graves are also reminders to the perpetrators and exposure of the fact that there was a crime and an illegal and sacrilegious act committed.
In ‘Bodies that Don’t Matter’, Eric Klinenberg says this about competitions for truth regarding political violence: “political leaders are as likely as postmodern professors to claim that truths are multiple, perspectival and partial…[But] one way to establish definitive and reliable evidence: get to the dead bodies, the corpses whose materiality cannot be denied.”
This is important advice for our own postmodernist elite analysts, who despair over how things are not all black and white and issue their favourite mantra of overcoming ‘binaries’ as they scramble for nuance and complexities in the wastelands of our religio-political violence where no-one and everyone is an ‘equal’ victim.
The desecration of Ahmadi graveyards, the exhuming of Hindu babies from Muslim graveyards, encroachments on Christian graveyards, mass graves and the growing population in the graveyards of some sects are a compelling testament to routine, not war-time political and religious conflict.
While exposing state violence against militants in Fata and documenting the specific cases of drone victims, some academic observers consider the murder of minorities as unfortunate acts by misguided ideologue-militants who must not be judged for any individual act but be seen as victims of circumstance and context. These observers attempt to separate and deliberately ignore the tacit and overt support, succour and sanctions offered by jihadist outfits in routine faith-based crimes beyond Fata. These analysts also celebrate how this Islamic state is rejecting western secularism as it rapidly caves into the pressure of desecularising itself towards some ‘authentic’ postcolonial Islamic identity.
For these observers, dead bodies are going to be just half the problem – it is the threat to legitimate allotment and permanent burials in graveyards that they should now worry about. On the other hand, maybe such religio-political violence will cleanse the Islamic republic of all ‘secular’ influences and whereby, the death of pluralism will leave no choice but to bury all our dead in one majoritarian cemetery. If there are any minorities left by then.
The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: [email protected]

Source: The News – 31.01.2014 –