What’s in a (soft) drink?

Published: February 20, 2012

The recent controversy over an alleged ban on Shezan products within the precincts of the lower courts in Lahore, approved by the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) just because the owners of the company happen to be Ahmadi, has rightly sent shock waves through sections of Pakistani society. While it is still unclear if the ban has indeed been imposed, it is at least clear that such a resolution has been presented for consideration at the LBA general meeting. Regardless of the ‘legal’ situation of the issue, this event highlights a few very important things.

First, the proposed ban has the support of a cross section of the lawyers in Lahore. Mr Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, President of the Khatme Nabuwat Lawyers Forum (which has several hundred members according to available information) has presented a motion for this ban, and who knows that it might be approved at the general meeting, if it already has not been done. The point to underscore here is that such discriminatory actions cannot be voted upon. One cannot legalise discrimination using democratic means. No resolution in any democratic forum (assuming that the LBA is democratic) can take away the inalienable right of protection against discrimination.

Secondly, the ban was proposed by lawyers — people who have received at least 17 years of education. Often we hear that discrimination — against people from different religions, classes, ethnicities, backgrounds — are hallmarks of an ‘uneducated’ person; that with modern education, people become enlightened and appreciative of basic human rights. However, here we have highly educated people who are indulging in blatant discrimination. It is indeed shocking to remember that these were indeed the same lawyers who came out on the streets a few years ago, on the principle of justice when the chief justice was unfairly removed from office. So it seems that education does not necessarily civilise people.

Thirdly, this action shows that one, the main problem in Pakistan is that here people tend to view everything from a religious lens. Unless everything is religiously sound, it does not hold merit. So it does not makes a difference that Dr Abdus Salam was a Nobel Laureate in Physics, he was an Ahmadi and as such, whatever he did was useless. Similarly, Sir Zafrullah Khan, (our first foreign minister and earlier a Judge of the Federal Court of India and later President of the International Court of Justice) was unacceptable because he was an Ahmadi too. In the same vein, Justice Cornelius and Justice Rana Bhagwandas should not have risen to high positions, not because they were bad judges, but because the former was a Christian and the latter a Hindu.

Interestingly we are not unmatched in this approach. Case in point is the United States where religion, too, plays a major role in deciding what people think about a certain person. Therefore, for some conservative Christians, George W Bush was a good person since he opposed abortion (even though little happened in his two terms to stop it), and Barack Obama is bad because he does not oppose abortion. Similarly, their other policies are irrelevant to these people.

I know I am pointing out the obvious, but such an approach to life simply shows that we have yet to become ‘discerning’ beings.

This incident is also a litmus test for the so-called liberals in Pakistan. It is one thing to speak in English, buy international brands and eat at high-end restaurants, and quite another to speak out and act against all kinds of discrimination. Some of these liberals might now support Shezan since its ‘cool’ to do so, but would they also treat their workers with respect and not ridicule someone who comes from a lower class, different caste, or a minority religion?

Such discernment and sense is required at all levels if one is truly ‘liberal’.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2012.