A few days ago, a group of youngsters smeared a portrait of the first Nobel laureate from Pakistan, Dr Abdus Salam. The video was widely circulated on the internet that showed the group, consisting of State Youth Parliament Pakistan members, painting Dr Salam’s portrait black while raising slogans against the minority Ahmadiyya community, of which Dr Salam was a member, outside Gujranwala’s National Science College.
It was tragic to see that science students, rather than honouring Dr Salam, a world renowned physicist from Pakistan and champion of science in the developing world, would take pride in vandalising his portrait due to bigotry. Dr Salam’s contributions to science are undeniable and they have been recognised and hailed by the state of Pakistan as well. Thus it is unfortunate to see that our society is still reluctant to acknowledge him as a hero because he belonged to a religious minority. The white part in the Pakistani flag represents our minorities but if we can continue to persecute them, then we are in fact dishonouring our flag, our founding father’s vision for Pakistan and our Constitution that guarantees that all citizens are to be treated equally regardless of their faith, caste and creed.
Why do we treat our heroes so badly? Pakistan’s second Nobel laureate and the youngest laureate Malala Yousafzai has also faced a barrage of criticism from Pakistani society. Many a conspiracy theory is associated with the assassination attempt on her life despite the fact that she barely survived the attack. Thankfully, the state of Pakistan has been consistently supportive of Malala and Dr Salam. This gives us hope that one day our society, too, will learn to honour those who have made Pakistan proud in the international arena. We always complain how Pakistan’s image is portrayed negatively in the international press but people like Dr Salam and Malala and many others continue to make us proud due to their contributions in areas like science, education, arts, among others. Asma Jahangir’s work for human rights and women’s rights was hailed around the world but she was not recognised by several segments of society because of her bold views on fundamental freedoms. It is high time that we put an end to such thinking and be more tolerant and appreciative of the work that our countrymen and country-women continue to do for the betterment of Pakistan.
In an environment where we see rising political polarisation, religious intolerance, the state needs to continue to promote tolerance and honouring those who have made a mark. Dr Salam does not need validation from those who smeared his portrait; his work speaks for itself but at the same time, it is a tragedy that he does not have the same acceptance from fellow Pakistanis that the international community has given him. Let’s hope that one day, those who smeared his portrait too would feel ashamed of doing what they did.