Jadeed Qabristan (graveyard) is located near Murree Road in the heart of the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
A signboard dangling outside the house of the gravedigger reads: “It’s prohibited to bury Mirzais here.” ‘Mirzai’ and ‘Qadiyani’ are derogatory terms used against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. While taking a photo of the sign, one is greeted with suspicious stares.
For decades, Ahmadis have faced persecution at the hands of religious extremists and right wing forces. The state jumped into the fray in 1974, when the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced a constitutional amendment declaring them non-Muslim to ward off pressure from right-wing forces.
Before the May 11 general elections, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) labeled Pakistan as a country where religious freedom has been extremely limited.
The subjugation of Ahmadis started soon after Independence in 1947. Led by Jamaat-i-Islami, right-wing groups spearheaded anti-Ahmadi campaigns. The first such violent movement erupted in Punjab, in 1953, leading to the imposition of martial law in the province.
Then, military dictator Ziaul Haq furthered the agenda by passing an ordinance making it unlawful for Ahmadis to identify themselves as Muslims. They were also barred from calling their worship places mosques.
In 2010, in Lahore, 86 Ahmadi worshippers were brutally murdered by the Punjabi Taliban. Over the years, speaking out on ‘sensitive’ issues such as religious discrimination has become increasingly dangerous – highlighted by the murder of the then Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer.
While the community faces violence and discrimination on a daily basis, few people remember that the sole Noble laureate from Pakistan, Dr Abdul Salam, belonged to the Ahmadiyya community.
The writer is a freelance contributor. His Twitter handle is @shahz79