DAWN - Opinion; April 20, 2008

April 20, 2008

Email

Lynching of Jagdeesh

By Kunwar Idris


TWENTY-TWO-year-old Jagdeesh Kumar, a factory worker, was beaten to death in Korangi on April 8 by some of his frenzied co-workers while the saner among the lot, the managers and a police contingent, stood by and watched.

By being a Hindu, it seems, he lost the right to compassion and, ultimately, the right to life.

The police though themselves witness to the inhuman spectacle would not even register a case nor arrest the murderers till the arrival of Jagdeesh’s kin from their distant desert village. “It is not as simple to investigate (the charge of murder) as it appears,” a report in this paper quoted a police official say, two days later. The factory management, the workers and the murdered boy’s family, he said, had to cooperate and they would not.

Here is a police commander hedging his duty at its worst. He wanted the cooperation of the managers (who pretended as if they were in their rooms and did not see what went on outside), of the workers (who lynched Jagdeesh or connived at it) and of the family members (who were 100 miles away), while the eyewitnesses to the crime were the police themselves. No court would give much weight to the deposition of Jagdeesh’s relatives or friends. But any court would be most wary of doubting the testimony of the policemen who were there on the spot.

What young Jagdeesh had said, or even gesticulated, to deserve public lynching is not known nor ever will be. Here is the wording of the law pertaining to the offence he apparently committed: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Inserted in the country’s penal code (sec 295-C) in 1986, the sweeping, ambiguous contents of the law hold a mirror to the ambition and perfidy that resided side by side in the person of Gen Ziaul Haq, its author. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people have been charged under this law, hardly anyone ever has been convicted by a court of law but quite a few, like Jagdeesh, have fallen victim to mob hysteria.

Those tried by the courts and acquitted, nevertheless, had to suffer long confinement in prison. A celebrated case is that of four brothers from Mianwali who were in jail for six years before the judge held they were falsely implicated by a village rival who coveted the headship of the village vesting in the family of the accused. While acquitting them the judge deplored the vile conduct of the complainant who had tried to exploit the “sentiments of Muslims for a worldly benefit”. In that they succeeded, nevertheless. The once hulking youth had been reduced to skeletons. Still fearing retaliation, the four brothers left the village and ultimately the country to tell their story for asylum.

Why a raw youth coming from the Thar desert to work for a pittance in the stink of a Karachi tannery would defile the name of the Holy Prophet defies both reason and common sense. The explanation for his co-workers’ criminal conduct is to be found in the vague complexity of the law which leaves every individual free to view the ‘imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly’ in the light of his own conviction or as indoctrinated by the mullah. The outlook of the trial judge also would surely have a bearing on his finding.

The dilemma the interpretation of this law poses was put simply by Prof Anwar Syed in one of his articles in this paper when a Jagdeesh-like incident of butchery had occurred. “Any assessment of the Prophet’s honour and dignity,” Syed wrote, “that falls short of the level that others may have assigned him will probably be interpreted as blasphemous. It follows also that no part or aspect of his word or deed is to be open to scrutiny.”

But more important than a dogmatic or rational view of blasphemy is whether it at all constitutes a penal offence and that too punishable with death, nothing less, and without any scope for remission or forgiveness. The opinions of jurists and clerics may differ but the argument is clinched by a reference to the Holy Quran which lays down the death penalty only for murder and no other offence. Allama Iqbal, in his celebrated treatise on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, discussing the latter-day dogmas that had prevented the evolution of ideas recalls what Hazrat Umar had to say in the last moments of the Prophet’s life to console his worried companions: “The Book of God is sufficient for us.”

No blasphemer was put to death in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet though quite a few were around. The most telling example is of Abdallah bin Ubai who habitually used language most foul and irksome against the Holy Prophet, but he permitted no one, not even Abdallah’s own son, to kill him. And when Abdallah died a natural death he showed indulgence for that meanest of his slanderers by giving his own shawl to serve as his shroud. After all, the Prophet came as a blessing and mercy for all mankind and for all times (Rehmatul Alimeen) and not for his followers alone.

Leaving the schism of it all aside, the law of blasphemy as it operates in Pakistan is brutalising society. A number of people have been killed, as was Jagdeesh, in cold blood, in sudden rage, or in the calculated pursuit of vendetta. It is also dehumanising the custodians of the law. No remorse is expressed, condolences extended or compensation paid to Jagdeesh’s heirs. No policeman has been punished for not rescuing him from the clutches of the mob.

As Faiz said, the blood of the poor dead mingles with the very dust in which they are reared. It mingles faster when it is of an infidel and spilled by the faithful. The brutality of it aside, Pakistan will remain a reactionary pariah of the world so long as the penal religious laws enacted by Ziaul Haq remain in our statute books.

Politics of reconciliation

By Anwar Syed


POLITICIANS have been talking of reconciliation and cooperation. It appears also that while this contemplated direction is beckoning them, their old ways pull them back. One cannot be certain which way our developing political culture will go.

Interesting things have happened. The PPP and PML-N, once enemies, came together to form coalition governments at the centre and in Punjab. Together they constituted a good majority in each of the two assemblies and did not need additional partners. Yet, they took in the ANP in the central government. This suited the PPP well because, wishing to join the ANP-led government in the NWFP, it wanted to befriend that party.

Mr Zardari, taking ‘the more the merrier’ line, also inducted JUI-F, whose outlook differed from that of the others (and which had only six members in the assembly), in his government. He wanted to take the MQM along, but that did not materialise. Mr Zardari’s approach to government formation may not have been sound. Coalitions are usually less cohesive and less energetic than single party governments.

The larger the number of partners the more numerous are the persons who must be consulted, and their consent obtained, before policy issues, and sometimes even matters of administrative detail (postings and transfer of officials) can be settled.

There is an additional problem with the present coalition arrangements. The prime minister and the provincial chief ministers are not the ones who lead and direct their governments. It is their respective party bosses — Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali Khan (and prospectively Altaf Hussain) — who do it even though they hold no public office. One may call it government by remote control, which allows the real rulers to act arbitrarily without having to be held accountable.

In passing we may take note of an illustration of how this government by remote control works. On April 12 Dost Mohammad Khosa was sworn in as the chief minister of Punjab. According to a Lahore newspaper, after the ceremony, witnessed among others by the Sharifs, Mr Khosa walked to his own car and drove away.

The Sharifs left in a government limousine escorted by a fleet of official vehicles with full protocol. This to my mind was an immodest, even blatant, show of raw power on their part. It should be noted that Shahbaz Sharif, expected to replace Mr Khosa after he has won a seat in the provincial assembly in a couple of months from now, has been ruling Punjab almost openly since the Feb 18 elections.

Apparently, Mr Zardari believed that even though the PPP did not need the support of others to form a viable government in Sindh, it would be good to have the MQM on board, for it would bridge the “rural-urban gap” in the province. MQM leaders welcomed this prospect.

Negotiations between the two parties to settle the specifics of power-sharing are said to have begun on April 2. MQM leaders broke them off on April 13, saying that the PPP team did not pursue the matter seriously enough, and that nothing of a substantive nature had been discussed. They complained that Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the chief minister of Sindh, had stayed at the negotiating session on April 13 for no more than a few minutes, indicating his lack of interest. His indifference to the MQM’s sensitivities was demonstrated also by his appointment of Dr Shoaib Suddle as the provincial inspector general of police in spite of the MQM’s belief that he had condoned the extra-judicial killing of scores of its workers in the 1990s.

Dr Farooq Sattar, an MQM leader, claimed that in the negotiations his party had focused on developing a working relationship with the PPP and the question of the allocation of ministries had not come up. Another MQM spokesman, Senator Babar Ghauri, said his side had focused on the devising of a power-sharing formula. It is conceivable that terms such as a ‘working relationship’ and a ‘power-sharing formula’ refer to something other than the allocation of posts concerned with the making of high policy (such as ministries).

What might that be? It could possibly mean that the MQM, even though not formally a part of the government, would have to be consulted, and its concurrence obtained, on all major policy choices and administrative measures. In other words, Mr Altaf Hussain and company, sitting in London, would be in a position to immobilise the government without bearing any responsibility for the consequences of their interventions.

That this is what the MQM wanted is incredible. We are therefore returned to the matter of jobs. The negotiations broke down probably because the PPP would not give the MQM the number of ministries and the portfolios it wanted.

The PPP’s alleged insufficiency of interest in the negotiations is understandable, considering that it did not need the MQM for government formation in Sindh. It wanted to take the MQM along as part of Mr Zardari’s drive to spread ‘goodwill’ and togetherness. Nice but unnecessary.

It is not entirely clear what the MQM intends to do: whether or not to rock the PPP’s boat. Dr Farooq Sattar says his party will sit in the opposition in the Sindh and National Assemblies, but that it will support the government when it is doing the right thing. He has asked his party workers to keep an eye on the government’s doings and keep the people posted. He has also cautioned the PPP against using force to coerce or suppress the MQM, for things in 2008 are not the same as they were in 1995, meaning that the MQM is now quite capable of responding to the PPP’s offensive in kind.

If the MQM wants nothing more than an opening that enables it to advise on policy issues, its representatives can do so on the floor of parliament. The problems confronting the country are stupendous. Many of our people suffer malnutrition and may soon have to starve. A conference of experts at the World Bank has recently warned that food shortage in many developing countries will give rise to wars, domestic rebellions, plundering of grain warehouses and chaos.

Let the MQM scientists and philosophers study this awesome problem and tell us what to do. But, alas, it is dominance, not the dissemination of wisdom, that Mr Altaf Hussain desires.

The author is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.

anwars@lahoreschool.edu.pk

First things first

By Shehzad Roy


WHEN I was in grade 6, I was absent from school on the day that our English language teacher explained the meanings of a list of words. The next day she gave us a surprise test. We had to construct sentences with those words. I still remember two words that I was asked to use in sentences: ‘phenomenon’ and ‘vague’.

I made the following sentences: ‘It is difficult to pronounce the word phenomenon’ and ‘In my exams I forgot the meaning of the word vague.’ After checking my script, the teacher smiled and then gave me what is now referred to as the impressive-sounding ‘corporal punishment’.

This happened in a good private school. I wonder what the teacher would have done to me if I was studying at a government school! Of course, my answers betrayed my ignorance but I think I deserved credit for being so creative by making sentences using words which were well beyond my comprehension. My creativity was discouraged.

Now, seeing the state of affairs in government schools, I wonder how things would be if everyone in Pakistan became literate. Would life improve for the people? The answer is a categorical ‘no’. Reason? Literacy alone is not the answer to all our ills. There is more to education than meets the eye. Along with the process of imparting literacy, there is need for multiple interventions in education, such as sports, art, music, etc. Literacy simply teaches a person to read and write. Education creates a well-rounded personality and shapes the thinking processes of an individual.

Why have we not succeeded in providing quality education to children in government schools? Because we do not have qualified human resources, good syllabi, infrastructure and other components that go into the making of state of the art education. In my opinion, we lack these resources because a majority of teachers suffer from economic constraints and the rising inflation makes it very difficult for them and their colleagues in the education department to make two ends meet and raise a family.

They unabashedly resort to corruption or concentrate on other money-making ventures. Until their problems are solved, they will not be able to focus on their professional development and capacity-building, let alone issues like syllabi and infrastructure. Once these issues are resolved then the few capable educationists in the country should come forward and offer their services to the government to train teachers using good teaching material and syllabi that should include sports, art and music.

The problem is that every time these issues are raised and the issues identified, the concerned authorities respond by raising the salaries of the teachers by a measly 10 to 15 per cent when the need of the hour is to raise the salaries and benefits of the teachers to a level that would enable them to enjoy a life of dignity and would empower them to meet the needs of their families in an adequate manner.

Indiscriminate interventions do not guarantee a quality education system that produces students who can think. Keeping in view the fact that we are not a welfare state, our policy planning must provide for a student who comes from a socio-economic class that is determined by the national economy. A majority of them are impoverished. The students must be relieved of their major worry, of coming to school on an empty stomach and then being expected to fully concentrate on their lessons. No matter how good the school, teachers and syllabi are, if the student is malnourished and hungry and comes from a troubled background with financial woes, especially when his parents are illiterate, he will not be able to benefit from the best of education that is offered to him.

Since the performance of all government departments shape the economy, they should work cohesively, with integrity and honesty, to ensure that the proposed efforts in the field of education prove to be fruitful.

It is time steps were taken to control and improve the state of education before matters get out of hand. A country’s standing is determined by the quality of its human resources. The more illiterate and backward its people are, the more underdeveloped it is considered. Finally, it must be remembered that without ethics and moral values, no education system is worth its while. It is because our education system has lacked these vital elements that our country has been harmed by our highly educated and learned people. n

The writer, a pop singer, is president of Zindagi Trust, an organisation working for child welfare and education.

royzad@gmail.com