Pakistan News Service

Tuesday May 30, 2023, Zul-qaadah 10, 1444 Hijri

A New Caste System And The Old Outcasts

07 August, 2007

By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu

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There were two mosques in our large street near its southern and northern ends. The latter was bigger and was also serving as a small madrassa where religious knowledge was taught. The students would come here from remote villages of Hazara and had bright eyes and innocent faces. Everyone loved them and the street community would bear their expenses happily. They were regular visitors to our homes. They would feel so glad when they would meet my caring mother. She would treat them as special guests and give them love and respect. As part of her hospitality, she would also try cooking something for them immediately.

During vacations, the children would go back to their villages and on return, would bring a special gift of corn flour packed in small bags. They would carry the bags through a long journey to Rawalpindi to present it to my mother. That degree of reciprocity and affection I have never seen afterwards. I remember asking my mother once, “Isn’t it inappropriate to accept their gift? They are poor and they carry it over such a long distance?” “It will hurt their little hearts. It will hurt their mothers’ hearts. Do not say it ever again.” My mother silenced me, but continued talking to herself, “Why a madrassa? They should have been in the schools and nearer to their mothers. It is cruelty.”

These children would stay at the madrassas till they would get enough education to become maulvis (religious scholars). Afterwards they would teach in a mosque or a madrassa in Rawalpindi or elsewhere. There was a balance between the students and the opportunities. Almost all of the religious teachers would find a place. Those from our mosques, who stayed in Rawalpindi, would come occasionally to see us. Our relationship with the students and the maulvis ended when we moved to Islamabad.

The religious students I knew that were becoming maulvis were almost all humble and humane. Where are those children? Where are those maulvis? Where are those days? Where is that balance?

The mosques were managed by the masjid committees. Each had four members. All of them were reasonably educated, matriculate or above. They were respectful people. The children used to stay away from them. They would not stop us from playing. All that they would say was, “Play in the ground.” In those old days, there were many grounds in Rawalpindi. All have been buried under concrete structures. Some of the managers were quite strict with their children. They would not allow them to go out except for that of the ‘roosee’, whose occupants were relatively more educated. The word ‘roosee’ meant the Russians; and that was how the socialists were known among common people in those days. Incidentally, our home was the house of the roosee.

Where have those wise mosque managers gone? Where has wisdom gone? Where have those days gone?

The children of Jamia Hafsa, whom we saw leaving the besieged premises before the start of Operation Silence were not different from the children of our mosques. But their eyes were asking saddening questions. Why are we being humiliated and harassed? What have we done? One day your flowers become our necklace, the other day your bullets hit our head: Who are we? Who are you?

People asked similar questions after the chase that began in the wake of 9/11. Is it their sin that they were born in Bajaur or Bahawalpur? Is it their sin that they were born to poor parents? Is it their sin that when General Ziaul Haq declared Jihad against the Soviets, they were in madrassas and not in a grammar or government school? Is it their sin that they were motivated and trained for Jihad, and sent to Afghanistan?

They were not the sinners. We, who did not care for them are the sinners. We, who send our children to Canada, Britain, France, Australia and the US for education or jobs or green cards while sending the children of the others to Afghanistan, Kashmir and elsewhere to kill and be killed, are the sinners. These were the common answers to the saddening questions.

General Zia’s Afghan jihad could be a policy blunder and liberal Benazir and General Babar’s creation, the Taliban, could be the extension of the same blunder and the resurgence of the Taliban in General Musharraf’s period could be a matter of ‘national interest’; but, what are the thousands of madrassas and their millions of students all about?

We have devised a new caste system, which is worse than the one that our ancestors had lived by two thousand years ago. Shame on us! We are the ugliest social architects around. We have turned ourselves into a nation at war with wisdom and peace, and also with itself.

All those generals, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and the managers (maulanas) of the madrassas who planned, funded and executed religious extremism do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. They are the architects of Pakistan’s social and political decline. All of them knew that they were doing something terribly wrong. They knew what was good and bad for the children. They knowingly pushed the children of others into the Afghan and Kashmir furnace.

We, the common people of Pakistan, have no hope that our ruling elite will ever change. Neither will the present managers of the madrassas. The elite led by a corporate army thrive on chaos. So do the maulanas of the madrassas. There is no permanent conflict between them. Their ongoing clash is arbitrary. The Lal Masjid operation and its repercussions should not be seen in isolation. Before the operation, all those maulanas who matter did not support the maulanas of the Lal Masjid. None of them tried for any reconciliation. The most effective maulanas, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmed left for London to take part in an all time useless drama, the All Parties Conference (APC). After the military operation, the effective maulanas and their parties remained as partners in governance. Why did the friendship between the generals and the Ghazi brothers break? The only possible reason is that treason from within is not tolerated. Who betrayed whom and why are the questions whose answers will not be known soon.

The army in its present shape will not change its perceptions and actions. It will continue to transgress. It cannot become an army as it used to be in the pre-partition days, committed to its sole purpose, acting as required by the state. The wise managers of the madrassa have become extinct. The madrassas with their present environment cannot become centres of knowledge. If we want to stay normal, we will have to nationalise both the army and the madrassas. This is the first step to end the new caste system and also towards making Pakistan a welfare state.

One wished that the PPP workers should have taken Pakistani politics as it is, a pastime for the ruling mafias, and stayed away from it. Given the genuineness of the lawyers’ movement, participation in it was perhaps difficult to resist. The workers of the PPP are outcasts. They are disliked by the generals, the maulanas, the bureaucrats and the rich, and even by the top leadership of the PPP. Given their commitment, they are a rare breed. They know they are chasing a fantasy, a different Pakistan, an egalitarian Pakistan. They know their top leadership is not any different from the rest. Yet, they are steadfast. Given our environment, they are not a threat for the system. They are at the most, a shadow of the threat. The fearful elites are not ready to tolerate even the shadow.


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