Prem Chand Pakistani

2 Aug

Prem Chand at a session of the Youth Parliament of Pakistan

When did humanity become subservient to religion? When brilliant and dedicated young Pakistani, Prem Chand perished in the tragic crash of Air Blue flight 202, someone thought it necessary and appropriate to label his coffin with the derogatory slur “kafir” which means infidel. It’s a sad day for a country when one of its most talented young citizens is labeled, even in death, not by his nationality, or his local affiliation or his name but by a bigoted slur.

Labeling a dead Pakistani’s coffin in such derogatory terms is a sad reflection of the priorities of our society and our desensitization to humanity. In the last few years, we’ve seen an exponential increase in religiosity of our society but unfortunately it seems to be accompanied by a decline in humanity and morality. The insensitive labeling of Prem Chand’s coffin is a prime example of this.

Also, this deplorable event is a sad reflection of the dominant understanding of citizenship. Pakistan was “created for the Muslims of India” but its reality has always been very different. Pakistan has been home to people from very different religions and religious strains. And people from these diverse backgrounds have been faithful sons and daughters of the soil for centuries. The are active and productive citizens of the Pakistani state but somehow they are not recognized as such – not even in death. And this is a national tragedy.

One of the things eating away at the fabric of the Pakistani state is our over emphasis on all kinds of affiliations but a national one. And really, Pakistanis arent to blame for this. The state has not created a compelling national narrative through education or service delivery that could help people rise above divisive distinctions. The modern nation-state, according to Benedict Anderson,  is nothing but an “imagined community.” Its a group of people bound together by an imagined connection not necessarily a real one. This imagined connection isn’t simultaneously dreamed up by the millions that eventually form the state but is crafted and created through institutions such as various arms of the government, or the media. Unfortunately, our institutions have failed to provide any sort of cohesive national narrative that would allow Pakistani’s of all shades, shapes and sizes to come together.

Our collective imagination has been constantly inundated with the idea that our nationality is defined only by our religion. Therefore, if you are Muslim, you are Pakistani. You maybe Muslim and Pakistani but you could be a whole host of other things and still Pakistani. This narrow definition of nationalism must change. We need to create compelling national narratives that recognize Prem Chand as Pakistani first and anything else second. The young man who dedicated his short but remarkable life to the service of other fellow Pakistani’s deserves to be honored in his death because if Prem Chand, in death, is to be labelled a kafir and nothing else, then we who have done much less for this country and its people deserve to be called Pakistani even less.

Below is an excerpt from a letter written by a friend of Prem Chand’s that was published on fellow blogger, Ali Abbas Zaidi’s blog:

“It’s very painful for me to write to defend such gem of a person. But in a society like ours where people are discriminated on the basis of their faith, It’s essential to show these religious bigots their real face.

Prem chand was born to a poor family and was its lone feeder. He belonged to Sanghar, Sindh. He was 25 and was married and also had children. He, however, looked younger than his age and we also used to crack jokes on him for this which he thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly was not a “man” and had those boyish looks. He was doing masters from Sindh university, something pertaining to Social work. He not only called himself a social worker but his text messages also bore this signature. The signature was later changed to “YP Minister” when he was made minister for Youth affairs, culture and sports in previous session of YP. This honour was well deserved as he had prepared and presented a comprehensive research report on state of social welfare in Pakistan. He was hardworking, dedicated and sincere. His educational back ground was such that he could not make flowery speeches.
He was not good at speaking English and his Urdu also had that pinch of Sindhi accent but this never deterred him to stand up and speak whenever he wanted. He was a patriot and loved pakistan, worried about it as much as we “muslims” do, brought resolutions, prepared them, asked for help,  tried to pinpoint and resolve all the problems that Pakistan faces, spoke against India on water issue and had no qualms on the prospect of going to war with her. I say all this to show that he was “normal”. He was not alien or “Indian”.”

It is with heartfelt sorrow that I write this post and extend my deepest apologies to the family and friends of Prem Chand for the deplorable actions of those who dont deserve to be called even human. I only hope and pray that Prem Chand’s death will spark  introspection and discussion on what it means to be Pakistani and who is deserving of this label and who isn’t. 

You can read more of the moving account of Prem Chand’s friends about his brief but meaningful life on Ali Abbas Zaidi’s blog here. and for more analysis on this issue see this article on the blog Pakistaniat which aptly describes this sad event as ” Prem Chand: His Death Was a National Tragedy; How His Coffin Was Treated a National Disgrace

How sad but how true!

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24 Responses to “Prem Chand Pakistani”

  1. Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 2, 2010 at 3:18 am #

    Sehar
    this is condemnable act,majority of fellow Pakistanis are afflicted with this myopia
    This has nothing to do with Islam of our Prophet (PBUH)and why donot they look at charter of medina,first ever constitution of Islamic state,formulated by Prophet(PBUH)
    It is clearly written there
    “no jew will be wronged for only being a jew”
    These people can find its explaination in the sermons of hafiz saeed,not in teaching of great Prophet(PBUH),jews and christians have lived side by side in islamic socities.Their mindset is also reflection of some crude realities of communalism that plauged the both hindus and muslims before the partition and unfortunately persists to this day.It has to be taken in broader context.
    Why imagined communities sehar
    It further polarise societies
    Have not gods of nationalism, communism,marxism,etc. failed
    european political order based on nationalism took the lives of millions in two world wars
    owing loyality to certain economic ideology(as in communism) or nationalistic thought does divide the humanity
    our problem sehar is that we want to replicate imported ideologies in Pakistan and our country has become testing ground of all ideologies be it arab wahabism and radicalism or western secularism etc.we should go for indigenous system that comes out of our own political and social values,this professional tit for tat of ideologies must be stopped and instead of downplaying opponent views and scratching of surface,we must go for something substantial

  2. Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 2, 2010 at 3:37 am #

    let me allow to share with you Iqbal theory of composite-nationalism
    It is based on Quran’s verse
    “O’people of the Book!Come,let us join on the word(Unity of God),that is common to us all”
    Regarding our relation with christians and jews,the spiritual homogenity could serve as basis of human unity and political mobilization.
    Take care

  3. Mackers August 2, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    It’s pretty disgusting

  4. Jahan August 2, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    Before writing a detail article i think you should do a little research why his coffin was was marked as kaffir. First of all kaffir is not a slur it means unbeliever, disbeliever and may be used sometimes infidel.

    The coffin might be marked so that people may not offer Namaz Jinaza as hindus burn the dead body instead.

    GOD knows best

    • Sehar Tariq August 2, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

      Jahan – last I checked Kafir was hardly a term of endearment, honor or respect.

      • Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

        They could have marked him non-muslim;This is not time to create differences either by terming someone kafir-derogatory term in local context or later taking-up this issue partially and making generalisation that is half-hearted attempt to resolve inter-society conflicts.

      • Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

        Sehar
        I have sent you very interesting study on your email.Please do check it.
        “Do the languages we speak shape the way we think?”

  5. Tariq Aqil August 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Welcome back again Sehroo! Now do you see what I mean about the collapse of the Pakistani society? This over emphasis on religion and the use of religion in politics and every aspect of our life has really and truly turned this country into a cruel calous and fanatic society.Since the last thirty years we have seen a tremendous proliferation of deeni madaris and mosques but unfortunately this has not helped our country in any way. Crime has increased hatred and bigotry is rampant and the compulsory teaching of Islamiat has NOT I repeat NOT made any improvement in our society. Pakistan is the only country in the world that has legalise and institutionalised religious discrimination with its blashhemy laws and the restrictions on all non Muslims. Ours is the only constitution in the world that does not permit a non Muslim to become the head of state or the Prime Minister.This has made us the laughing stock of the civilise world and created people with the mind set of Zaid Hamid and Zakir Naik. What we desperately need now is a Mohd.Ali Jinnah or a Mustafa Kamal Atta Turk to guide us back to the principles of secular democracy. If this country is to be saved we need to confront the horrors of religious fanaticism and defeat the monster of obscurantism or Pakistan will definetelt end up as a failed state pretty soon

    • Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

      Mr.Tariq Aqil-Zakir naik is not a pakistani;he is an indian.
      Zaid hamid is street demagogue and had time bound agenda,you will find him nowhere since some religious group is after his life.
      Secular democracy-did it save India from hindu fundamentalism and growth of extremist religious group;
      Moderate muslim parties with religious leaning like Justice and development party in turkey and United Malaya front in Malaysia have put their countries on the road of development and are looking for world power status.Turkey under secular dictatorship was plauged with corruption and poverty was on rise;It was justice and development party that brought political reforms,raised voice for palestinian rights,reduced the military role in politics and has been more capitalist friendly.
      I donot know how you define secularism,if it consider religion as matter of individual and give him the complete freedom then I leave upon you to decide whether banning burqa in france,restricting construction of minarates in switzerland,asking the turkish PM not to bring her wife since she wears scarf by french government-is according to the secular and democratic spirit.

    • Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

      Pakistan people’s party is secular party,It has ruled pakistan not once but most often in democratic rule;What it has delivered to the people?
      Take the case of southern punjab that is bastion of PPP power and also new crop of militants.Most of elite happens to be from syed and shia families who have not only spiritually enslaved the people but also have deprived them from the facilities that rest of central and northern punjab enjoys;
      According to the finding of Dr.Ali Cheema,every second household in southern and western punjab is living in absolute poverty.Who is to be blamed-religion or corrupt feudals.I am myself from syed family;given the lack of school,people send their children to madressah where illitrate maluvis exploit them and it becomes easier for them to create hatred among them for their Shia and syed masters both socially and religiously.

      Primary issue is of poverty that further create extremist tendency not the other way around.At the time of writing this comment,floods have devastated my area and once again the poor people have been left on others mercy,government has inadequate structure to avoid them falling into hands of organisation like jamat ud dawa etc who under the cloak of relief work will be looking for new recruits
      So,Sir secularism or other vernacular is of no use to common people and this liberal struggle for ideas is futile unless you give people real economic models at micro and macro level to improve their life standards

  6. Fahad August 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    Unfortunately this type of acts aren’t even surprising anymore. At school I remember we had this really bright christian girl who stood as a candidate for school student body president and had creative posters everywhere. One fine morning we entered school to find religious slurs and insults on all her posters and instead of condemning this act a lot of students condoned it. After all, they reasoned, if our country can’t be governed by a non-Muslim so why should we elect one in our school? A friend of mine said that these people can’t be trusted as they all go to hell so they have nothing to lose by behaving immorally. This just depicts in microcosm a very wide-spread and socially-acceptable and socialized prejudice in our society.

    • Ali August 3, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

      What part of our Islam suggest or encourages this kind of an act. This kind of behavior depicts the dis-respect for fellow human beings prevalent in our society. Shame on us.

  7. Humood August 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Dear all – one thing we should keep in our mind, when we start to talk about Islam and we give examples of todays (so called) muslims please both are different things, we need to understand Islam, that is, what Allah want us to do. So simply ask yourself ARE WE DOING SAME. If someone doing or saying wrong being muslim it does not mean Islam is wrong, Islam is the best and we are wrong. Saying any one KAFIR is not wrong and how much he is patriot or a good human being he will be put in fire, and those who will go in Jahannum are those who Allah dont like so we should not also be liking them, its not like that we start to insult them or start to kill them, we have to respect them, and try our best in good manner to make them muslim, but they are Kafir and jahannumi if they are dead being non muslim, we should always keep that in mind.

  8. Ayesha August 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    @Ghulam Ali Murtaza.
    Its nice to see that someone makes sense here.

    @sehr
    The term KAFIR cannot be simply be equated, as many Muslim theologians of post-classical times and practically all Western translators of the Quran have done, with “unbeliever” or “infidel” in the specific, restricted sense of one who rejects the system of doctrine and law promulgated in the Quran and amplified by the teachings of the Prophet – but must have a wider, more general meaning.

    This meaning is easily grasped when we bear in mind that the root verb of the participial noun kafir (and of the infinitive noun kufr) is kafara, “he (or “it”) covered (a thing)”: thus, in 57:20 the tiller of the soil is called (without any pejorative implication) kafir, “one who covers”, i.e., the sown seed with earth, just as the night is spoken of as having “covered” (kafara) the earth with darkness. In their abstract sense, both the verb and the nouns derived from it have a connotation of “concealing” something that exists or “denying” something that is true.(as defined by Muhammad Asad, a well known commentator of Quran)
    So ms sehr you might as well have to do some research on the arabic language before passing your fatwa about the term being a slur or dishonorable. Ms Jahan might be right in pointing out that it was written so that his body could be cremated as per hindu tradition. I am not undermining prem chand’s credentials but i really dont think its that big a deal. Nowadays muslims call each other kafir.
    According to an authentic hadees
    The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) said: “Between a person and disbelief is discarding Salah”. [Reported by Imam Muslim]
    A well-known Tabie Shaqeeq bin Abdullah said: ‘The companion of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) did not consider the abandonment of any act, with the exception of Salah, as being Kufr”.
    Kuffar has various levels.And If the above mentioned hadees is to be taken into account then probably 90% of pakistanis are kafirs for neglecting prayers.
    So chill out.There are so many other issues that need to be highlighted than what someone out of ignorance wrote on prem chand’s coffin. Maybe he couldnt find another word for it:)

    • Mackers August 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

      Ayesha,

      I don’t have to look up the etymology of the word Nigger to know that it is used as a slur against black people in American and its use is, hence, despicable. Looking at the word Paki, as it is used in the U.K, might lead you to believe that it is simply being used to refer to the nationality/ethnicity of the target. You might even think that this would be a point of pride for the person being referred to, as it is short for Pakistani. However, its history and use has been meant as racist, and in the present colloquial use – when used by a non-desi against a desi – is seen as racist.

      I also don’t have to look at the etymology of the word Kafir to understand that in colloquial use, it is meant as a slur, and is especially employed by religious zealots in our society to denigrate all non-muslims. As such, whoever wrote Kafir on Prem Chand’s coffin could have had an innocent motive, but that is unlikely. I am sure it would have been well within the simplest of vocabularies to write Hindu, or non-Muslim, or a variety of other markers, to indicate that the body was that of a non-Muslim. And, from reporting, there is nothing to suggest that the word was written by an official, in order to differentiate the dead.

      “So chill out.There are so many other issues that need to be highlighted than what someone out of ignorance wrote on prem chand’s coffin.”
      She seems pretty calm to me, just disappointed and sorry. And this story seems as good as any to write about, even if it makes an ounce of difference. Not like writing about this is taking up valuable space and preventing another story from getting published.

  9. Ayesha August 6, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    NATIONALISM
    The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “He is not one of us (the Muslims), who calls for asabiyyah (nationalism and tribalism), or who fights for asabiyyah, or dies for asabiyyah.” [Abu Dawud]

    One of these poisonous concepts that stigmatises the Prophet’s (saws) Ummah is Nationalism. It is a dangerous concept that has become the emotional basis for the state of the Ummah today and one, which visibly fortifies the division among those who profess to believe in the same ideology.

    If only the whole humanity really becomes subservient to the one true religion,that started with Adam and completed by Prophet Muhammad (saw) you wouldnt have to write so much about petty issues.(nationalism, patriotism, gender equality etc)

    • Sam September 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

      Please contextualize the issue. Remember that this isn’t 600 AD and words evolve over time. The word kaafir too has changed from meaning farmer to ‘infidel who will rot in hell’. It’s demeaning and racist, and I don’t recall the prophet [s] ever saying it was okay to treat a fellow human being disrespectfully.

      Yes, I tend to think scribbling a word that has evolved into a demeaning slur on a dead body is disrespectful.

  10. abdul Majid August 7, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Where is religiosity in this sad episode?
    Quran( source of muslim religion) says about non-muslims “If they make peace, you make peace with them”. Prem Chand was more than peace,while this slur is a hostile act contrary to religious teachings. In S60_V8 muslims are told ” God does not forbid you to show kindness and be equitble” to people like Prem Chand.
    This act is ignorance of religion not religiosity.

  11. Divaa Divine August 10, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    can i add something to this myopia?

    how about the fact that those who define religiosity, by far are the duffers dwelling in our society. They have eradicated nationalism, made up their perverted speeches and stripped those who believe in the good of this country. What else to say but ISS MULK AUR ISS K HUKUMRANON KA ALLAH HE HAFIZ HAI

  12. Maha Kamal August 14, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    =( The rise of intolerance and bigotry in our society is really sad.. It’s unfortunate that as a society we expect our values to be respected in foreign lands, but hardly do the same in our own countries. It’s reflection of deep-rooted religious ignorance, rather than religiosity.

    • Ghulam Ali Murtaza August 27, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

      Yeah but ignorance is on both side. What matters is not intellectual bashing and rants on conservatism and fundamentalism but a need to look at the values being conserved and we take no time in associating the teachings and ideologies of Maududi, Qutb,Taliban to the original spirit of Islam, Islamic fundamentals are not lying in thoughts of these people but the life of Prophet(PBUH)and constitutions like charter of Medina and his diplomatic accords, Find religiosity there not in ideologies evolved out of certain political and social context. Islam gives right of education,job etc to the women – now to expect from taliban boys who were grown up in camps, having never experienced family life to properly behave with women is not justified. Similarly the CIA backed so called Jihad against Godless communists that preached hatred for non-Muslims to these students in training camps will not reap any tolerant crop. So these are all mindsets not the fundamentals of Islam, mere ideologies of different groups not the original spirit of Islam that raised orphan to the highest office and shook the corrupt dynasties from Rome to Iran, We in the Islamic fundamentals have social and economic justice one get in the pages of communist manifesto and also the individualism, capitalist friendly philosophies one get in the pages of Adam Smith wealth of nations.

      Agreed Maha
      Maha

  13. abdul Majid August 16, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    What is the definition of ‘religiosty’ as used in this article? Or as used in newspapers quite often.

  14. Khawja Hameed August 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Dear Fellows

    for your info, how India Media manipulates things,

    Premchand Pakistani was non-muslim, so why to object if it is written on his coffin.
    It is just to identification so that his funeral should be done according to his religion.

    There is no harm as others were muslims and their funeral was done as Muslim.

    The writer himself stated that all the coffins were identical, so why to make a fuss of it.
    Just think other way, if his funeral would have done according to Muslims and buried,
    then the situation could be more serious, in Pakistan, Hidos are not allowed to perform their funeral according to their religion.

    So this whole debate is useless and meaningless.

    We are still proud of him / Prem Chand Pakistan and this show religious harmony in Pakistan.

  15. Ehsen Naveed October 12, 2010 at 4:48 am #

    I removed it as soon as I saw it on the coffin and wrote : Love to Prem Chand

    The question still clicks my brain :
    Who Wrote It and Why ?

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