Moving From Negative to Positive Media Representations of Minorities. By Saadia Haq


A country where more than half its population lives on the fringe – marred by poverty, food insecurity, economic hardship and sectarian violence there is much to be done. Be it a street vendor in Karachi’s bustling Saddar or a tea stall worker at Muridke in Punjab province they share one thing in common – the lack of harmony and sense of security. How Pakistan slide into this catastrophic mess is a topic I will discuss at some other stage.
For now I am concerned about the “common people of Pakistan” and particularly our religious and ethnic minorities whose suffering go beyond what the mere eyes can observe. Most Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others suffer doubly the societal intolerance and indifference on a daily level. Be it at a school, at work or a social setting, our main stream society never let’s them forget that they are the barely tolerated part of the nation.
Such societal indifference and rather aggressive mindsets have also grown thanks to the sensationalism in media narratives that portray minorities in negative light. For example, on April 08, 2016, "Sawa Teen" program on Neo Tv channel comedian Sajjan Abbas crossed all lines of common decency by cracking a joke using the language – Hindu kutta (Hindu dog). More shocking were the careless laughter and claps from female program anchor and present audience. To think that this is allowed in a country having more than 2million Hindus population. Alas!
I bring to light another very controversial media personality; Mehr Bokhari, television host and anchor known for her aggressive and volatile outlook. Non one in Pakistan should forget her notorious interview with former Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and how his support for Christian minority member Asia Bibi was met with her disapproving hostility. In last five years, several high profile politicians supporting debate on blasphemy laws were butchered and buried, all while Ms. Mehr Bokhari’s shenanigans continue unchecked and unaccounted for.
This is Pakistan. Here on a daily basis, Pakistanis get bombarded with such sort of bigoted television programming that continues to fuels our religious intolerance towards anyone who is outside the so-called realm of Islam. Today most television channels blatantly promote the religious favoritism and inclination towards a Pakistan that exists for Muslims only.
In current scenario, when certain Muslim mobs go around lynching minorities, where Hindu girls are kidnapped just because they are deemed Kafirs - Infidels, where Ahmedi graveyards are desecrated because Wahabi lot consider them blasphemous, the local Pakistani media can creatively use the medium for promoting social harmony and unity among the masses. The country has witnessed a rising trend among certain sections of media that are focusing stories centering on the lives of common people and social issues. Earlier this year, producer and actor Sadia Hayat Khan launched her personal production “Mein be Pakistan Hon” which won international fame.
The documentary highlights the existing human rights violation and syllabus discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities in the country. Its bold yet humane theme demands for equal rights and opportunities for Pakistanis regardless of their religious and racial differences.
Such initiatives are welcome in a climate when the struggle against the various ‘divisive ranks’ must penetrate into our national psyche. If not, we can say good bye to the idea of achieving social harmony among the diverse communities.
The art of storytelling is not something new to Pakistan, a country brimming with talented citizens. A seasoned writer and director Kashif Nisar through his artistic portrayal and convincing script in “Aasha - Ik Umeed” Pakistan’s first film on issue of interfaith harmony and social tolerance that driven home the message of how the one-sided narrative in school syllabus reinforces our attitudes of indifference for non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan.
The complete plot of this film is a critique on our national mentality towards the followers of different faiths in Pakistan. The story played out by seasoned artists like Qavi Khan, Fariha Jabeen and emerging talent Imran Urooj highlight the very sensitive issue of religious intolerance and prejudice towards Christian and Hindus (two large minorities) in Pakistan.
Overall this film leaves viewers with a big morale – it’s the story of a Pakistan where much is needed to be done to take every one along. The production leaves its viewers with a message that “Let Pakistan be our Faith” in leading us towards a society where its religious minorities stand as equal citizens.
Another documentary focusing Pakistan’s historical past and the sacrifices of Non-Muslims has been widely publicized and received well among audiences. Our Own Heroes – depicts the forgotten great Pakistanis members of religious minorities, including Diwan Bahadur Sataya Prakash Singha, commonly known as SP Singha, and group captain (retd) Cecil Chaudhry.
The Pakistani media should continue to play its responsible and positive role in highlighting the issues of religious minorities and promoting religious tolerance in masses.
As a Pakistani citizen and writer, I strongly urge that we let our conscience guide us in advocating for the rights of religious minorities through our pens. I also demand the establishment must take strong notice of those indulging in biased and cheap journalism – media personalities who allow and promote discrimination and unfair treatment to our own citizens in our own country must be held accountable for their actions.
Its time to suspend a few television licenses and also send home certain media personalities involved in mischief.
For, Pakistan belongs to all its citizens rightly so. Until next time, Pakistan Zindabad!

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