news on May 8 was that Asia Bibi, acquitted two years ago by the Supreme Court
of blasphemy, was finally allowed to leave for Canada to join her already
exiled family. She had rotted in jail for eight years as the judges refused to
challenge the injustice of Pakistan’s infamous Blasphemy Law. What the sessions
court had ruled could not be set aside by the High Court either. Even at the Supreme
Court, it took a lot of guts to let the innocent woman walk.
Christian, Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 under dubious
circumstances. She was treated as an untouchable by society, and called unclean
because of her religion whereupon a quarrel ensued. She was then accused of
insulting the Holy Prophet, triggering prompt police action who put her in
jail. A cleric “Maulvi” said she had, indeed, blasphemed.
law”, Pakistan Penal Code’s (PPC) Section 295-C, inserted into the Penal Code
by an Act in 1986, has made hundreds rot in jail. It seeks to punish with death
individuals who insult the Holy Prophet in “word gesture or innuendo” — it
typically targets the minorities in Pakistan.
Ahmadis, declared a non-Muslim minority in 1974, collectively insult the
Prophet by allegedly violating the doctrine that he was the last prophet. All
Christians, by reason of their belief in the Old Testament, attract death
penalty because the Old Testament, which the Muslims believe is fake, contains
insulting references to the prophets mentioned in the Quran. All the Shia
community, who disagree on the status of the Companions of the Prophet, by
innuendo, insult the Holy Prophet, and therefore may be collectively liable to
be punished under the law.
“insult” happens by innuendo, desecration of the Holy Quran can also be
converted to “insult” if the judge so decides. Hundreds of cases where the
Christian community has been assaulted by mobs relate to the dispossession of
land, removal from job, plunder and rape. Most cases have been reported in the
press with a slant that goes against the minority community. The police have,
more often than not, joined hands with the mobs to persecute the Christians,
and the judges have passed unfair judgements under pressure from groups
pursuing vengeance through the Law.
accused have been awarded bail, they have been either attacked and wounded or
killed, thus establishing the trend of not awarding bail to the accused. The
biggest flaw in the law, apart from conviction on the basis of innuendo, is its
FIR, used by the semi-literate police officer to arrest individuals whom he is
unable to protect from the mob. Or, he leverages it to let off individuals on
the payment of a heavy bribe.
Pakistan doing it? The latest wisdom is that the majority community wishes to
retain or enhance its identity through what social scientist Francis Fukuyama
calls “isothymia” or the collective urge to be recognised as “equal”. He
explains the injustice arising out of this urge: “Contemporary identity
politics is driven by the quest for equal recognition by groups that have been
marginalised by their societies. But that desire for equal recognition can
easily slide over into a demand or recognition of the group’s superiority. This
is a large part of the story of nationalism and national identity, as well as
certain forms of extremist religious politics today.”
follows in the footsteps of Pakistan in setting aside what its founding fathers
had sought to avoid while writing its constitution. The violence unleashed
against the minorities by mobs in the streets while no existing law supports or
allows it, is the new “identity” trend. Fukuyama says: “National identities can
be built around liberal and democratic political values, and the common
experiences that provide the connective tissue around which diverse communities
can thrive. India, France, and the United States are examples of countries that
have tried to do this. Such an inclusive sense of national identity remains
critical for the maintenance of a successful modern political order for a
number of reasons.”
Indians who react negatively to my opinion in The Indian Express, express
nothing but contempt for Pakistan. But it is shocking how most Indian critics
of Pakistan forget the imitative groove into which India itself has fallen
despite the fact that India has no comparable Blasphemy Law dishing out death
as the minimum punishment.
trapped. Its top judiciary, when not manned by Islamists, lets the victims walk
after an average period of six to eight years in jail. But a victim can get
presented before a court manned by “pious” judges, in which case, he is sure to
go to his death.