RIGHTS’ activists in the country and progressive teachers’ associations particularly in Sindh are attempting to defuse a situation following a new case of alleged blasphemy, which has at its centre Prof Sajid Soomro of the Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur. Not too long after Prof Soomro’s arrest, the JUI-F, which has some support in Sindh districts such as Larkana away from its strongholds of KP and Balochistan, took offence at a social media post by Dr Arfana Mallah — president of the Sindh University Teachers’ Association. The provincial leadership of the right-wing party wanted the same blasphemy charges brought against Dr Mallah, apparently an old ideological opponent of theirs, which threaten to turn Prof Soomro’s life upside down. In a replay of the past, when angry crowds tried to force the registration of a blasphemy case against an accused, the Bhitai Nagar police station was besieged for some time.
If history is any guide, further pressure is likely to be mounted on the authorities in the coming days. Much has been said about the law, and the argument to prevent its misuse to settle all kinds of personal and political scores is a compelling one and substantiated by evidence. But, unfortunately, in recent times, there has been an all too visible increase in the reluctance to discuss the existing law, let alone taking steps to revise it. This is a result of the entrenched positions of people who take too much interest in punishing those they believe are violating the law and who are unlikely to be distracted by any reported instances of misuse. Those demanding fair treatment for an accused in the name of the law and principles of justice provided by religion are faced with a dangerous situation in the present case. They need much more than a call to Sindh’s old values of tolerance and understanding to persevere. They need the state, the politicians and other powers to be at least neutral. They need a government that treats people equally.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2020