Rumi said, “Run from what's comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” This is true for those who are advantaged and those who have the privilege to make – or not make – such a choice. It also goes beyond just being taken into the literal, physical sense. It is about being a nonconformist and standing up to set values, primordial norms, hypocrisy and deceit.

However, what about those who have no choice to make the decision that Rumi wants us to make; because the decision has been made for them by circumstance – the circumstance of their birth. Those who can dream of no comfort in their lives ever, who have no safety or security, who are destined to be born and live where there is only fear, who have no reputation or recognition for their being or their work and who are sometimes made notorious and then penalised by being blamed for sins they never commit. What do poets, mystics, the faithful, the saintly, spiritual healers, individualists and existentialists have to say to these people?

The weak, the oppressed, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed around us have nothing to comfort them and they live in constant fear. A more adequate expression for their existence will be ‘surviving’, not ‘living’. Within those who are marginalised in our country, there are multiple degrees of marginalisation. The first degree is simply being poor – man, woman or child. The second is being poor and coming from a minority faith. Then it is being a poor woman. The worst is being a poor minority woman.

A constant refrain one hears from one’s critics and some of those who read what appears in this space is that what is happening in Pakistan in terms of economic marginalisation and suppression of the weak – be they women or minorities – is not so unique. Some phenomena are universal and happen even in advanced countries and societies. Others are common in the developing world of which we are a part. They perpetually bring out correct and not-so-correct examples from India and other nations and quote, rather liberally, events and incidences without much contextualisation.

There is another argument which squarely levels all blame for all our ills, particularly the increased violence, extremism and terrorism in parts of the Muslim world on the west and the policies it has pursued, both in times of peace and in times of war. Therefore, what the self-proclaimed custodians of Pakistan’s supreme national interest and those who have taken upon themselves to issue certificates of patriotism want people like us to do is keep our mouths shut and our pens dry.

We must not show concern about where we are heading as a state and society. To criticise Pakistan too much tarnishes its global image (as if we currently enjoy great respect in the comity of nations). We are so special that the whole world has come together to conspire against us. People like us must stop at once from poking the scarred and infirm underbelly of our society.

But when Shama, a young pregnant and poor minority woman and her husband Shehzad, a poor young man from a minority faith in Pakistan, are dragged out of their home, beaten unconsciousness by a mob and then thrown into the furnace to be burnt alive, I am not even prepared to give two hoots about the image of the country I belong to, the patriotism it requires from its citizens and the supreme national interest we are told to continuously watch out for. In respect for humanity anywhere, I would not like it if it happened in any other society.

But I am not as concerned about India, other Asian or African countries or even the US. I am deeply concerned because this happens in my country, in the name of my faith – in my name. It does not give me any solace if a bride is burned in India on the same day or a tribe killed scores of men and women from another tribe in Africa on the same night or a woman was brutally murdered in the US. The face of the young daughter of Shama and Shehzad is stuck in my head. The face of a helpless father of a Hindu girl who was desperately trying to hold his tears after his daughter was abducted by the men of a local influential in Sindh is stuck in my head.

It is time to come together as one people and remove this fear from the lives of our country women and men, from the lives of our children, from the lives of the poor and the dispossessed and from the lives of those belonging to minority faiths and minority Muslim sects. This would mean revisiting law books and repealing and rewriting laws. This would mean making the state responsible for its weak citizens. This would mean establishing law and order. This would mean altering biased textbooks. This would mean regulating media messages by their editors and producers. This would mean strict legislation and introduction of severe penalties against hate speech and provocation of violence.

At the individual and societal level, if we see injustice in the world, it provides us no justification to be prejudiced and unjust towards those who are weak, who are vulnerable and who depend on us for their survival and livelihood due to an unequal and oppressive socio-economic order. When we cannot overpower the technologically superior non-Muslim man, we impose our brand of faith on a weak Muslim woman. The Babri Mosque is desecrated by Hindu extremists and we burn down temples and churches in Pakistan. That’s berserk.

The Pakistani elite and middleclass, some of who have unknowingly found a new consciousness against chronic social issues that are caused by their own classes, are constantly clamouring for change. They ask for reform, for an end to corruption and mismanagement, for better governance and for an overhaul of the system. They should also see how they behave with the weak and the marginalised around them as individuals, as family and as social class. How do they treat people who work for them in their plush homes and snazzy offices, in their factories and farms? How do they treat minorities, essentially those who are also poor?

In the days of apartheid and blatant race discrimination, when some white supremacists encouraged the creation of separate churches and it was said that their heaven would also be separate from those of the whites, no Muslim could ever think of having such segregation between people belonging to different races or classes in the mosques. But today, those who say their prayers with their drivers and butlers and gardeners in the same row in the same mosque in Pakistan, when come back home for dinner, give food to the servants in cheap, chipped off and stained plates. When they host their western guests or bosses who are mostly Christian, they serve them in their best of crystal, crockery and cutlery. Then they shamelessly discriminate against poor Pakistani Christians and other non-Muslims and justify that in the name of faith.

While minorities are treated with disdain, accusations of apostasy and blasphemy used against them to grab their money or land or to simply settle some personal score, there is also an element of classism whose ugliness is visible when dealing with them on a day to day basis.

I always quote this incident: some years ago a Christian school boy was asked by his teacher and classmates, in a Punjab town, on Independence Day, “Do you and your family also celebrate Independence Day? Will you come tomorrow for the flag-hoisting ceremony in the school?” They didn’t know that the boy was related to one of our most celebrated air force officers and educationists.