Only five bullets were needed to silence Multan’s bravest son, Rashid Rehman. Those who mourned his death were many: the weak and the destitute, single women without family support, landless peasants, bonded labourers working in brick kilns and farms, and of course, Junaid Hafeez and his family.
Languishing in a Sahiwal prison for more than a year, Junaid Hafeez had arrived at the Bahauddin Zakariya University with big dreams and a set of moral and ethical values he wanted to impart to his students..
As Hafeez looks out of the jail cell today, one thing is clear: a lecturer teaching students to push the envelope and think critically can no longer find legal representation. No longer does Rehman live, no longer can the students be taught that the ethics of the land have been skewed to restrict thought and inquiry. There were only five bullets, but there were countless victims.
“Across Multan Katchery, it was known that Rashid Saheb would take up a case even if a litigant did not have a penny with him or her. Even other lawyers used to send such cases to Rashid Saheb,” said a close aide to Rashid Rehman, who worked along him for many years but wanted to remain anonymous. He said Rashid used to remain in office until late night, something his close friends would warn him against, especially after he received threats. But he was a workaholic and truly dedicated to his cause and so he ignored any such advice.
“Rashid Saheb was on the forefront of the struggle to ensure rights for peasants and bonded labourers. Last year, his book was published on the rights of land tenants, titled Zamino Ki Bandar Baant (Unjust Distribution of Land), and it describes the situation of tenants and the injustice meted out to them,” he says, adding that Rashid Saheb remained active with Anjuman Mazareen in Multan, Sahiwal, Okara and the whole of south Punjab throughout his career. It was this spirit that made him take up the case of Junaid Hafeez who had been accused of blasphemy.
“His opposing lawyers said to him right in front of the judge during the proceedings of the case that he won’t live to appear at the next hearing. Rashid Saheb complained to the judge, who did not take notice of the threat. His killing is a big loss to the poor and the downtrodden of the region,” Rehman’s close aide said.
Ghulam Fatima, secretary general of Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF-Pakistan), says Rehman remained involved in working for bonded labour for decades. “Whenever we had any issue in southern Punjab, we always sought help from Rashid Saheb, and he was always available without taking any fee,” says Fatima.
The BLLF chief recalled that one time, she managed to get some bonded labourers released through a bailiff with the help of Rashid Rehman, but then started receiving threats from kiln owners. “When I called him to tell him about the threats I was receiving, he said ‘it’s okay, even I am also receiving threats from the same people’,” she narrates.
Fatima says that when the Bonded Labour Liberation Act 1992 was being formulated, Rehman gave his recommendations for it which were incorporated in the Act. “Recently, before the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the federal government again sought our recommendations, and Rehman, on our behalf, pointed out flaws and gave his legal input in the matter,” she says.
Rights activist and lawyer, Asad Jamal, says that nobody was willing to take the case of Junaid Hafeez, especially after the case of Shafqat and Shagufta Masih. After another lawyer, Mudassar, who Junaid’s father had hired to defend his son, gave in to the threats issued by hardliners, someone else was needed to pursue the case; someone with commitment.
“That’s when the HRCP and Rashid Rehman came forward to pursue the case, which was not moving forward for more than a year. However, he started receiving threats after that,” Jamal says, alleging that besides receiving threats from other lawyers, Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat also held a protest in front of his office.
Deploring the state of justice in the country, Jamal says: “Rashid Rehman objected when, while indicting Hafeez, the judge referred to the books of a famous Urdu fiction writer that were recovered from his room. However, his objection was ignored.”
Jamal says that the FIR mentions that Junaid Hafeez was operating two groups on Facebook: “So-Called Liberals of Pakistan” and “Mullah Munafiq”. Even though it was so easy to trace out where the groups were being operated from, the police did not probe the ownership issue. The ridiculous part is that both groups remained functional and continued with updates even when Junaid Hafeez was in jail.
“After receiving threats, he looked concerned and while discussing the issue with me he said it was getting too serious. But he was never reluctant as he had a strong character,” Jamal says.
Reminiscing about Rashid Rehman’s past, he says, “He has been working for the downtrodden for more than last 20 years and faced threats many a time. He worked in the 1990s for brick kiln workers and received threats from the kiln owners. Besides, he pursued rape and honour killing cases but threats never frightened him.”
Asad Jamal says that though Rashid Rehman had demanded the government provide him security, which it failed to do — as it does in most cases — but threats and persecution of the innocent cannot be countered by providing personal security to individuals.
“It is something larger, harming the whole social fabric and the root of the issue is this law which is being misused on a large scale. The state will have to deal with it,” argues Jamal.
Talking about Rashid Rehman, HRCP Secretary General I.A. Rehman says the killing of Rashid is a big loss for the commission as he used to take care of the whole region of southern Punjab up to Rahim Yar Khan. “After he received threats, we wrote to the government and the police and, despite acknowledging the gravity of the situation, they did not do anything to provide him security,” he says.
I. A. Rehman says the people cannot do anything to stop such happenings. “The state and the government will have to step in to stop the menace or the whole country will be in a big trouble, in fact it already is in a big trouble.”
Junaid Hafeez is not just another ordinary accused — as in most of blasphemy cases. He is an idealist in a conservative orthodox society which has no space for logic. Hailing from Rajanpur, he won the gold medal in pre-medical in Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education DG Khan, standing first in the board. In 2003, he joined King Edward Medical College to become a doctor, a dream of many of science students in the country. “He was not interested in pursuing his medical education. Instead, he was more interested in literature and social sciences,” says one of his close friends who requested not to be named.
In 2006, Hafeez left King Edward, went back to his region and joined Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan to undertake a BA Hons in English Literature.
“It was when I watched Dead Poets Society in my days at medical university that I decided to give up medicine as a profession and opted for a degree in English language and literature. My interest in the subject has been nurtured by the texts I studied like Love in the Time of Cholera, and the movies I watched such as Ijazat and Dil Se,” writes Junaid in his personal statement that he sent to the Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi, US.
Hafeez was one of only five students selected for a highly-competitive exchange programme for America, where he studied theatre, photography and American literature.
For his MPhil thesis, Hafeez chose to decode the layers of Pakistani masculinity through an ethnographic study of masculinity in popular cinema in Multan. He had also written four research papers on cinema, feminism and Seraiki literature and was working on research on feminism, masculinity and film. He had also translated short stories of South Punjab writers into English and wanted to publish an anthology of his translated works. He was a poet as well.
Hafeez started teaching at the BZU as a visiting lecturer in 2011 while also teaching at the College of Design, Multan.
|enter image description here|
“Many of his colleagues were not happy with him and he was also a victim of peer politics in his department. However, the head of his department supported him in a hostile atmosphere, so his opponents could not do anything to him,” says his friend, hinting at the animosity which resulted in a right-wing religious group at the university working against him.
“He became a victim of politics at the department. New vacancies were going to open at the BZU English Department, and a group of right-wing students with help from those who did not want to see Junaid in the department, implicated him in the case,” says Afiya Zia, a human rights activist, who met Junaid at Sahiwal jail after his arrest.
“Most of blasphemy accused are implicated in fake cases. Most of the times, there are other ulterior motives behind such cases. The Facebook pages that Junaid was accused of operating continued after he was arrested and jailed,” she says.
“The boy is a scholar. When I went to meet him, he had books with him, of philosophy and literature. One of the books I saw was of Tariq Rehman,” Zia says, adding that Hafeez is a teacher and was teaching other inmates at the jail. She says that though he is mentally a strong young man, but he too must be very concerned after Rashid Rehman’s murder.
“The root of the issue is the law which is misused and abused to implicate people. This practice should be stopped, otherwise, society will have to pay a heavy price for it though we have already paid a heavy price so far,” she says.
Hafeez’s friend says that he was quite religious as well. “Once he told me how to be a practising Muslim. ‘Start saying prayers during Ramazan, then it will be your habit’ he told me,” says his friend.
“Junaid has his own philosophical views and he is more inclined towards Sufism but it does not mean he is non-religious. He is just more straightforward and daring,” his friend says.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014