Pakistan’s Greatest Missing Person

Islamabad – After years of activism for citizens’ rights especially on the issue of missing persons, I got an epiphany about the biggest case of forced disappearance in Pakistan. The term ‘missing persons’ is normally used for the enforced disappearances, which entails, according to nternational human rights laws, secret abduction or imprisonment of a person by a state or political organisation or any other third party with the authorisation, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organisation, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s whereabouts.

Here, the intention was to talk about an entirely different case — the biggest and greatest missing person of Pakistan’s history. I realised this last week while hearing the speakers in a book launching ceremony in Islamabad. The title of the book is Jinnah: As a parliamentarian and the editors include Malik Mohammad Jafar (1914-1999), Ghani Jafar (1952-2016) and IA Rehman. The history of this book is another case of ‘enforced disappearance’ that we need to talk about. The book, first published in January 1977, contained Jinnah’s speeches that he delivered from time to time on the floor of legislative houses. The regime that came in the later part of 1977 considered it an issue of national security and banned the book. Not only that, it made the book disappear overnight from all the bookstores. My generation could never see the book.

In 2016, we started hearing that Sajida Jafar, the daughter of Malik Mohammad Jafar and sister of Ghani Jafar – two of the three editors of the book – was trying to resurrect the book from oblivion. She brought Ghani Jafar (who passed away in December 2016, just before the publication of the book) and IA Rehman on board and the re-publication became a reality. The book, which was a threat to national interest in 1977, saw bookstores in January 2017 once again. After forty dark years, from January 1977 to January 2017, the mere publication and launchings of the book offers a reason to hope that the authors of ‘national interest’ paradox have probably re-arranged their notes and might have stopped taking the Parliamentarian Jinnah as a threat.

What is contained in the book that became a threat for Pakistan? These were speeches of a great legislator that could guide the ordinary ones in contemporary parliaments elected in Pakistan in these forty years. How many independently elected parliaments have we had in these four decades, is quite another question.

Coming back to the substance of the book, it might be instructive to look at the ‘dangerous’ views of the Father of the Nation that he expressed in the Imperial Legislative Council (ILC).While there are as many as 19 laws Jinnah’s speeches on which have been quoted in the book, I would take just one example.

In 2016, we started hearing that Sajida Jafar, the daughter of Malik Mohammad Jafar and sister of Ghani Jafar – two of the three editors of the book – was trying to resurrect the book from oblivion

It was 1856 that Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act was enforced to legalise the marriage of Hindu widows. Again in 1868, Civil Marriages Bill was presented before the Imperial Legislative Council. The Bill envisaged a law of marriage based on secular principles that any two citizens of India should have the freedom of adopting the proposed secular law in the place of their respective personal laws. The Brahmos of Bengal who had moved the ILC for legislation specific to them under personal laws, agreed to declare themselves non-Hindus to accept the form of marriage as per this legislation. Mr Brahmo Nath tried to push a new legislation to enable the people from different castes to marry.

Mr Jinnah spoke in favour of the Bill but this attempt failed. In 1918, VJ Patel introduced Hindu Marriages (Validity) Bill. The object of this legislation aimed at social reforms was to legalise inter-caste marriages between Hindus, which were prohibited by orthodox Hindu law. The stance that Mr Jinnah took on this Bill in the early period of his parliamentary career was instrumental in the development of progressive and humanitarian thinking among the politicians of the era in India. It was the first time that a parliamentarian of that era took a stance purely on the basis of principles of equality and justice without considering the fact that the legislation did not concern his/her own community. It is also interesting to note that other Muslim members of ILC were against Jinnah’s stance.

By supporting the measure, Mr Jinnah made two very important points. First, the minority and the weaker class have to be supported even if they don’t belong to your own community. His pro-Harijan stand was far from being a momentary or emotional surge. He consistently proved – both in the legislature as well as in his politics – that his commitment to the rights of the minorities and for the equal citizenship of all was unflinching.

The second point that his strong stand on this issue made was, his views on whether social reform could only be undertaken if the majority of the people in the country supported it. This would be a very superficial understanding of democracy, which is certainly not the tyranny of majority. This is precisely what Jinnah proved during his entire parliamentary career. That the majority’s vote prevails is a mechanic of democracy. That the minority’s concerns are heeded to and are duly incorporated in all law and policy is the intent of democracy.

Throughout his career, Mr Jinnah continued to be guided by these views and acted with courage to support every measure of social reform, whether or not supported by a large number of people outside the legislature. This was demonstrated in his stance on Sharda Bill of 1929, the landmark legislation (to restrain child marriages) as far as progressive social reforms especially the rights of women are concerned. If this principle were applied on Pakistan, one would realise that none of what was going on here after this book was banned would be supported by Jinnah. If Jinnah could speak on Hindu Marriages Bill, so could a non-Muslim judge on the cases under Hudood Ordinances. And this is just one example.

Going by his parliamentary performance, it is clear that Mr Jinnah was not only far ahead of his own times, but also, he would have stood among those General Zia was persecuting. This is an ultimate tragedy that for 70 years of Pakistan’s existence, people of this country were prevented from knowing the man Pakistan owes its existence to.

Jinnah – the Parliamentarian is indeed the biggest case of forced disappearances in Pakistan. This makes Jinnah the greatest of the missing persons in our beloved land of the pure. May a time comes when the state produces this missing person in full health rather than in either the mutilated form that we usually get the bodies of missing persons in, or in a state of total silence that we got five missing bloggers in.

This article was published by Pakistan Today on 12th February 2016