By Mehr Tarar
March 22, 2013
The year is 2013 when a crazed mob of almost 3,000 people torched an entire colony of Christians in Badami Bagh Lahore
The year was 1990. In Lahore, the newly-converted Christian, Tahir Islam, a retired PAF engineer, paralysed, confined to a wheelchair, was easy to target, harass and hate for abdication of his original religion. The reason was found; the accusation was the ‘distortion of the Holy Text’. Jailed, he died a year later allegedly poisoned. The charge of blasphemy took his life.
The year was 1991. In Karachi, a bangle-seller Chand Masih was imprisoned without bail for 15 months despite testimonies of six Muslims in his favour before being acquitted in 1993. The reason was business-related fracas and the pretext of legal harassment was the alleged desecration of Islamic sensibility. Forced due to constant harassment by the accuser, Barkat went into hiding, never to be seen again. The false charge of blasphemy ended his life as he knew it.
In Faisalabad, a eunuch was taught a lesson he lived to mourn his wretched life. Gul Masih along with his brother was imprisoned on the alleged insults he made about the Prophet (PBUH), and despite unavailability of testimony against him, the judge made him the symbol of the machination of blind justice when the plaintiff was “...a true Muslim with beard on his face...” Sentenced to death, Gul was tortured in jail, and as his brother became a pariah in the outside world, a narrow, dark cell refuged him. The charge of blasphemy made his life a living hell.
The year was 1992. In Karachi, an award-winning 82-year-old anthropologist, active social worker, was arrested for blasphemy after an interview with an Indian paper. Later, he was accused for one of his stories (that turned out to be a political satire), giving him the title of a blasphemer. The unproven charges of blasphemy tagged him as an outcast for the rest of what was left of his life.
The year was 1992. Buntu (80) and Mukhtar (50), both Masih, were stabbed to death (in a police station) and tortured to death in jail respectively. The accusation was lethal and the poor Christians had no one on their side. The unproved charge of blasphemy became the cause of the severance of their lives.
The year was 1993. In Lahore, three illiterate Christians — Salamat (11), Manzoor (38) and Rehmat (44) — were arrested for writing derogatory things about Islam, and jailed despite no evidence against them. All three were shot at in 1995; Rehmat died, the other two were injured. Three Christians who could not write were persecuted for writing objectionable material. The flimsy charge cloaked in blasphemy took the life of one and ruined the other two’s irrevocably.
The year was 1994. In a strange twist, a hafiz was stoned and then burned to death. Farooq Sajjad, a devout Muslim who had devoted his life to memorising the Quran, was killed when a copy of the Quran caught fire in his house. Thinking it was the doing of a Christian, the vigilante mob, acting as God’s faithful, ended his life. The mistaken blasphemy charge killed a hafiz-e-Quran.
The year was 1997. The High Court judge Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti was assassinated in his chambers. This was the same judge who had cleared the names of Rehmat and Salamat Masih and he paid a fatal price for acquitting ‘blasphemers’. This was one false charge of blasphemy that took lives of one accused Christian and one Muslim judge who was human enough to be fair.
The new millennium began and life in Pakistan for many remained carved in the dark ages.
The year was 2000. A Muslim lecturer Younis Sheikh was sentenced to death on the testimony of his students when he remarked about the Prophet’s (PBUH) life before Islam. The remark was historical in context and the intent was taken as blasphemous. The charge of blasphemy made him flee into exile after being acquitted.
The year was 2002. A Sipah-e-Sahaba militant shot to death Muhammad Yousuf Ali, a Muslim cleric who spoke against religion-motivated violence. The irony of fate: what he spoke against was used against him. The alleged charge of blasphemy took away a noble man’s life as he fought for others like him.
The year was 2003. Samuel Masih was killed by a policeman who hammered him to death doing his ‘duty as a Muslim’. The poor Christian was accused of desecration of religion for alleged spitting on the wall of a mosque. The unproved charge of blasphemy killed another Christian.
The year was 2007. In Faisalabad, another Muslim — Muhammad Imran — was apprehended, tortured, and detained in solitary confinement. The allegation was the torching of the Quran. The charge of blasphemy marked him for life as a religious leper.
The year was 2008. In Karachi, a Hindu factory worker was bludgeoned to death by his colleagues. The accusation was blasphemy and the penalty was death.
The year was 2009. Seven innocent Christians were immolated when 75 Christian residences were torched as a reaction against the acquittal by the LHC of two elderly Christians — accused of blasphemy — from Faisalabad.
It was year 2009 when in Sheikhupura, Aasia Noreen got her name written in history for being the first Christian woman who was arrested and sentenced to death. The charge was blasphemy. Aasia, who’s still in jail, faces death by hanging after being accused of blasphemy as a result of a fight with some women in her village. Despite the vehement international uproar, the poor Christian woman languishes in jail, with no hope of pardon in a Muslim-dominated Pakistan.
The year was 2011. And one of the most prominent politicians of Punjab was killed at point blank range by a volley of shots by his Muslim guard. Salmaan Taseer was the most vehement voice against the sentencing of Aasia and his request to revise the blasphemy law (which was used as an instrument of persecution against minorities) earned him the ire of the radical many. He was assassinated in Islamabad. The man who was fighting to have the blasphemy law not used as a weapon was killed because of it.
The next victim was the federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. The PPP minister who echoed Governor Taseer’s stance was silenced by unknown assailants in Islamabad. The blasphemy law should not be abused for reasons unrelated to religion, Bhatti said, and soon he was killed.
The year was 2012. In Rahimyar Khan, an unnamed ‘psychologically unbalanced’ man was immolated by a ‘self-righteous’ mob of do-gooders. The accusation was of the desecration of the Quran, and the punishment was death. The charge of blasphemy did not need a trial and another life was lost.
The year was 2012. In Islamabad, the teenaged girl, Rimsha Masih, was beaten and arrested on the accusation of blasphemy for allegedly torching pages of the Quran. Amidst national and international censure, the girl was jailed and trialed before being released on bail. The false charge of blasphemy ruined the life of a girl, almost a child.
The year was 2012. In Rajo Deero, the mob attacked a police station, beat a man locked on charge of blasphemy. The 35-year-old man was beaten to death and the rage yet not defused, torched his body. The ‘protectors’ of religion did what is forbidden in the Quran on an unproved charge of blasphemy.
The year is 2013. The SC, acting as a trial court, admitted a petition against Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman. The complainant was Akhtar Gill of Multan whose sentiments were ‘hurt’ when Rehman on TV in 2011 had asked for a revision in the laws that were used not to protect the sanctity of religion, but mostly to settle personal scores. In addition, Rehman had tabled a bill in the National Assembly endorsing the abolition of death penalty on a blasphemy charge. The blasphemy case registered in February, which, unfortunately, has gone un protested by most big legal names in Pakistan, has become another huge question mark on the imposition of law in situations that do not even warrant any protection, and the inability of the SC to act as a final arbiter instead of becoming a primary court.
The year is 2013 when a crazed mob of almost 3,000 people torched an entire colony of Christians in Badami Bagh Lahore. The images of the mayhem in Joseph Colony — men cheering, rioting, torching of property, throwing a crucifix in fire — are a stark demonstration of how an unproved charge of blasphemy against one man can unleash violence against hundreds of innocent people.
1,274 people charged, 51 killed before trials, and General Zia’s blasphemy laws in 1986 as an addendum to “Pakistan’s Penal Code [which] dates back to pre-partition India when it was introduced in 1860. Section 295, better known as the Blasphemy law, deals with religious offences and was meant to prevent religious violence....” What is wrong with this picture?
All I can think of right now as a Muslim in Pakistan is of this verse of the Quran, the book that is my guide to life:
“There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in Tâghût and believes in God (or Allah), then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And God is All-Hearer, All-Knower” — 2: 256 The Quran.
Mehr Tarar is an Assistant Editor at Daily Times.