By K.N. Pandita
Blasphemy is a very sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the 180 million population is of Muslims. Allegations of insulting Islam or the prophet Muhammad often prompt a furious public reaction.
Blasphemy law came under severe criticism from the very day of its enactment. Opposition to the law did not come necessarily from the Christians of Pakistan. Of course, they were all affected and for them it was a matter of concern just because almost in all cases of blasphemy the indicted persons were Christians.
Even from moderate Muslims and more tolerant segments of society, voices though subdued, were definitely raised against the disastrous results of the blasphemy law.
In the name of blasphemy, many tyrannical acts have been perpetrated and the decree against a person, usually a Christian, is pronounced by the religious divines and not any court. The mullahs who bring blasphemy cases against the Christians usually take recourse to Islamic theology. In Pakistan intolerance against the Ahmadiyyah and Shias is well known. The Ahmadiyyeh were excommunicated from Islamic fold during the Z.A. Bhutto period. Sunni Muslims do not recognize Ahmadiyyeh mosques, leave alone frequenting these for prayers. Same is the case with the Shia mosques.
The next target after Ahmadiyyeh in Pakistan is the Shias. Shia-Sunni sectarian strife has been raging with full fury in Pakistan since a long time. Amusingly, Teheran does not even lodge a diplomatic protest against the killing of innocent Shias in Pakistan.
When the goons of Jundullah, a splinter group from Sunni-Hanafi orthodox Lashkar-e-Jhangvi crossed the Pak-Iran border in Iran’s Baluchistan province and attacked about a dozen of Iranian officials killing at least nine of them, Teheran lodged a mild protest without demanding that the culprits be brought to justice.
After the Shia, came the turn of Christians. In their case, the novel method of introducing anti-blasphemy law was tried. On a mere complaint of a mullah, the indicted Christian is arrested and charged with blasphemy, and tried in a court of law. Normal punishment for blasphemy is life imprisonment.
So far all cases of blasphemy were directed against the Christians, both men and women. Western governments stressed upon Pakistan to withdraw the blasphemy law because it generally went the wrong way and against one particular community viz. Christians. It has to be noted that the Qur’an considers Jesus Christ among the foregone prophets, and emphasises that he is shown due respect.
But the situation on the ground is almost the reverse of what good Muslims are enjoined upon to do.
Most significant thing is that only Christians have been targeted under the blasphemy law. There are other minority communities in Pakistan, albeit in very small numbers, like the Hindus, Sikhs, Tibetans Buddhists and even non-conformists. These minorities have been spared.
The ultimate goal of these antiquated practices of the jihadis and extreme rightist groups in Pakistan is to effect ethnic cleansing of their land of all non-Muslim communities’ influence and impact. This has been cherished by many predecessors among Pakistani rulers in the past and more frequently during past two decades ever since militancy erupted in J&K State.
More than five million Pakistani/Bangladeshi Muslims have migrated and sought residence in foreign countries. In UK alone nearly two million Pakistanis are emigrants. They have been given all civil rights by respective governments and they have sent their elected representatives to the law making bodies also. What if their home societies also decided to treat these emigrants the same way they treat the Christians in their home country of Pakistan.
Hatred against other communities is driven into the heads of teen agers going to madrassahs or the Islamic seminaries. The boys in the age group of 8-12 are enchained and imprisoned for a long period till they are declared fit to join jihad against the American atheists and Indian infidels.
Significantly when the former governor of Pakistani Punjab adopted a humanistic view of blasphemy rule and found it not in sync with present times, he gave expression to his thoughts in the hope that Pakistan polity would heed his sane appeal.
This was not going to happen. After he had paid a visit to an imprisoned Christian girl charged with the crime of blasphemy and taken into judicial custody awaiting pronouncement of sentence against her, the fanatics hatched a conspiracy of liquidating Governor Taseer. His own guard gunned him down. The assailant was lionised by the fanatics openly chanting slogans of victory and triumph of faith.
Jihadis and extreme rightist organizations in Pakistan spread fear among the government functionaries and the police and also the moderates among its civil society that anybody showing any sympathy with the Christians especially those who are accused of blasphemy will meet with dire consequences.
Pakistani government did nothing to check spreading of fear and intimidating sections of civil society. Human Rights activists, who are most vociferous on the smallest untoward incident happening in militancy-swept Kashmir, are tight lipped about violation of the right of expression in Pakistan.
With the government succumbing to the threats of jihadi organizations and incapable to stem the rot, the incidents of bringing allegations against the Christians of blasphemy increased. Now it came to be revealed that fake cases were framed against the Christians only as a matter of personal vendetta.
For the first time Pakistani High Court in Islamabad has thrown out all charges of blasphemy against a 14-year old Christian girl Rimsha Masih who spent three weeks on remand in an adult prison after she was arrested in August for allegedly burning pages from the Qur’an.
Paul Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s federal cabinet, confirmed the case had been thrown out by the High Court. “I welcome this order. Justice has been done and the law of the land has been upheld by the court,” he said.
Fanaticism does not end with targeting the Christians. Of late, the Bohra community has been targeted and only recently two bombs were blasted in Karachi locality with Bohra concentration. The Bohra are a faction Shia community least involved in politics and mostly a business class interested in humanitarian works. But rabid jihadi organizations of Pakistan massively funded by Wahhabi and Salafi organizations in Saudi Arabia would not spare them either.