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Thursday, April 07, 2005

"Havas-e-luqmae-tar khaa gaee lahjay ka jalaal"

The above line from Iftikhar Arif has been buzzing in my mind ever since I read that the government has retracted its original decision to remove the 'Religion' column from passports.

Such yo-yo behaviour is increasingly becoming the norm of the government. It happens in the face of the slightest noise made by those who make a mockery of people's beliefs by using religion as a tradeable commodity.

I wonder how this about-face fits in with the soft image of an enlightened, moderate nation. Will the staff at the Passport Office be able to recognize the names of all of the world's religions, should someone genuinely belong to a lesser known belief system? I asked 5 people in an upper-middle-class restaurant today if they knew who or what a Jain was. (I only mention the socio-economic factor to give you an idea of the probable level of education of the customers). I got 3 "don't knows", one - a young teenager - said "a sort of Buddhist", and one offered a helpful "first-door-on -your-left-in-the-corridor" (though I admit that the place was very noisy.) So that doesn't seem promising.

But, then, will we be forced choose from a predetermined drop-down menu, as it were? Once again, who decides what the offerings on the menu are? What if the religion is not recognized here but is accepted as one elsewhere? I mean Scientologists have been asking for such a recognition in places and may even be granted the status in some country some day. So what happens if a Pakistani adopts the new religion? (I am talking of non-Muslim Pakistani, naturally ... since it's hardly worthwhile for a Muslim to risk a murtid's fate: Best to remain hypocritical. It fits with the mainstream). He now wishes to place that on his passport.

The staff I encounter in the passport office (or in any government office) hardly seem intelligent or educated enough for such a task. Of course, the MMA could be asked to give them a crash course in skewed viewpoints. I can foresee several delightful repeats of the time Bertrand Russell was sent to prison during World War I for opposing the war. The jail warden asked the customary questions of Russell: Name, Age, Place of Residence. Then he inquired, "Religious Affiliation?" ... "Agnostic," Russell replied. The poor man looked up, "How do you spell that?" Russell spelled, "agnostic" for him. The warden wrote the word carefully on the prison admission form, and then sighed, "Oh well! There are a great many sects, but I suppose they all worship the same God."

Anyway, I guess it's too late to hope for another swing of the yo-yo, so the stupid, unreasonable, anti-human_rights column in the passport is probably here to stay. But I hope better sense will prevail by allowing one to write 'Undeclared'? Surely (well, perhaps in this country, not-so-surely) I should have the right to withhold the public declaration of my faith (except when necessary for very specific reasons: marriage, inheritance, legal rights, entry into a place of worship) on the grounds that it could endanger my life or create a bias in the mind of a prospective employer, or, more realistically, in the 'whatever-passes-for-a-mind' of an immigration officer in the US of A.

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Anonymous The Diwari Biradri said...

Some of us disagree with your giving up hope about blocking the column from appearing. It is not law yet, so there is still time. Soon you will see a small group (we are considering calling it Diwaar) making a move through various forms of awareness campaigns and hope you will join us in our efforts.

12 April, 2005 12:36

Blogger Bolshevik said...

Well, they do have an option titled "non-religionism," whatever that means; and I can tell you from experience that the "interview" that follows once you choose that option is not pretty.

Here's a sample:
Officials in the interview room (Idiots or Ids): Tou aap k maaN baap ka kia mazhab hai?
Me: Muslims.
Ids: Aap k puraaney passport par tou Muslim likha hai aap ka mazhab.
Me: Jee.
Ids: Tou abhi yeh kiuN select kiya hai?
Me: Is that against the law?
Them: Achha tou aap ki parwarish baahir khulley mahaul meiN huee hai (*eyes tshirt and jeans*) tou aap ney mazhab ko khaerbaad keh dya.
Me: I didn't know you were paid to preach as well. I thought you were here just to make sure that my documents were in order and then send them forward for processing my passport.
Ids: Leikin aap yeh mazhab select nahi kar sakteiN.
Me: So let's keep my documents aside. I'd like to do a story on this. *whips out press pass*
Ids: Nahi buss theek hai hogya interview. *close file*

I felt bad about using my press pass thus, but after waiting in a crowded room with screaming children and adults for six hours, I was in no mood for insanity. :-P

04 October, 2008 23:17


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