The murder of reason by Irfan Aslam

Published May 18, 2014
Activists in Islamabad hold candles and placards during a protest on May 8, 2014 against Rashid Rehman’s killing . The number of protestors contines to dwindle amidst an incredible level of threats and intimidation. —AFP file photo
Activists in Islamabad hold candles and placards during a protest on May 8, 2014 against Rashid Rehman’s killing . The number of protestors contines to dwindle amidst an incredible level of threats and intimidation. —AFP file photo

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.

Rashid Rehman: the Rashid Rehman, an ad­vo­cate and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Multan task­force co­or­di­na­tor, was not just an­oth­er law­yer and rights ac­ti­vist. Rehman was a bea­con of hope for the many who could not af­ford or ob­tain coun­sel for one rea­son or the oth­er.

“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: scholar, teacher, prisoner

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.

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“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

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