Police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Saturday arrested four men involved in smashing an antique Gandharan Buddha statue found during construction work in Mardan. The remaining parts of the 1,700-year-old statue have also been recovered by Mardan police.
When videos of a man breaking the antique statue surfaced on social media, many Pakistanis expressed their anger and disappointment at the blatant vandalism of an ancient cultural heritage. According to reports, the man who broke the Buddha statue was instigated by local cleric[s]. The video reminded one of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, which were once the world’s tallest Buddhas but were blown up and destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 on orders by Mullah Omar.
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that if the progressive people of Pakistan remain silent observers and neutral, all hopes of a progressive and modern Pakistan will be dashed. Chaudhry added that “social degradation is immense and silence is not an option unless you want this society to be as dead as [a] graveyard”. His words about a dead or decadent society should be pondered over. Pakistani society is fast turning into a reactionary and intolerant one. The construction of a Hindu temple was halted just a week ago in Islamabad after protests by religious groups and now we have witnessed the destruction of a Buddha statue.
While the KP government must be appreciated for its quick response in arresting those involved in this crime, we must ask ourselves if we want Pakistan to be a country envisioned by founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah or if we want it to turn it into a land of bigotry. The mistreatment meted out to our religious minorities renders the white in our flag meaningless. Unless and until all citizens are treated equally, regardless of their colour, caste, creed, religion and ethnicity, Pakistan cannot prosper.
It was also unfortunate to see some of our lawmakers, including Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif, justify and defend the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Turkey by citing Turkey’s laws and system of judiciary. This kind of obfuscation leads to the justification of bigoted acts. The progressive people of Pakistan do speak out against injustices but they are a minority, or so it seems. We used to say that the ‘silent majority’ in Pakistan is tolerant and against discrimination of religious minorities but in the past few years, we have seen that the so-called ‘silent majority’ actually nods in agreement with the reactionaries.
It is rather sad to see Pakistan spiral into a regressive society. We must go back to the vision of our founding father who wanted to see a progressive and pluralist Pakistan.