Every time I hear about a terrorist attack, the immediate question that comes to mind is: were they Hazaras or Shias? And every time a headline confirms my initial concern, memories of sectarian violence bring back the sense of insecurity, the perpetual loss of community and the fear — fear of losing more loved ones, of being in such a situation myself and being unable to do anything about it.
In Pakistan being a minority means you continuously live in fear. It creeps behind you and follows you everywhere. You can be killed for your beliefs anywhere and anytime, in a targeted killing, in a bomb blast, an imambargah attack, or much worse, you could go missing with no sign of your existence left behind. It doesn’t matter who you are or what are you doing. Whether you are going to work, talking with friends, spending time with family or even attending Friday prayers. No one can save you and in most cases no one will be held accountable.
The most horrible fact is that no one will give voice to your oppression and speak against those who wronged you. A headline reporting some minorities were killed will be published, the state will make a statement, an inquiry will be made and then everything will be forgotten until the next bomb blast or targeted killing occurs. And then this vicious cycle runs again.
When even your friends become silent, the biggest activist becomes selective, and half of the population refuses to even acknowledge or call out an incident against your community – what can one do?
Loved ones will be left alone to grieve and their wounds will be reopened every time another incident occurs. Every time a person, a loved one, dies someone loses their world. Imagine how many families have lost their entire world in such incidents.
When I was young, I would get so upset with such news. Now, I don’t even know how to process it. I am always left at a loss for words. Perhaps we have become hardened or perhaps it is the fact that we know whatever we do will be useless. What can someone say when it falls on deaf ears? When even your friends become silent, the biggest activist becomes selective, and half of the population refuses to even acknowledge or call out an incident against your community – what can one do? When you protest, you are portrayed as using the victim card. When sectarian violence occurs, the government plays the same blame game, accusing neighbouring countries, political development, and external involvement to cover up their inadequacy, but refusing to sympathise with the suffering.
When the government identifies the perpetrators and negotiates with them, tell me what can one do. When the prime minister himself calls you a blackmailer, what other evidence do you need to prove how vulnerable you are as a community?
When anyone can lead a rally against you, and some 300,000 people can stand in the country’s largest metropolitan cities and shout dangerous slurs at you, without anyone condemning them, let alone taking some action – what belief of change is there left?
This is not hopelessness but despair. It is a sinking feeling knowing that this violence is not going to end anytime soon. Today it was one of us, tomorrow it could be us. In Pakistan we Shias are now alone and on our own. Its high time we realise this.
Things will not change unless the majority realises that violence is not bound by religion, race, class or time. Until the majority realises that just because their experiences are different than ours, it does not make ours invalid. One does not need to have common beliefs in order to raise their voice for others and call out oppression against minorities.
Most importantly, no progress can occur till the state itself decides to step in, to openly condemn the perpetrators of these acts of violence, arrest the culprits, pass the necessary laws and take some action rather than giving us hollow words of consolation. No change can occur unless each of us realises that peace is just an illusion until the most vulnerable of us can live and worship freely.