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Published Nov 30, 2010 01:02am

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JUST back from a trip to lovely old England — oh how I love England! — and the usual experiences: the immigration officer at Heathrow falling off her chair at the mere sight of my green passport, then getting up and after brushing off her clothes settling down for a detailed scrutiny, referring to her computer, sussing me out for the nth time, and so on.

All with the greatest courtesy and respect I must add.But do we even know, indeed do we even accept, the trepidation with which we are seen in other countries, that the name we have given ourselves, by our own actions most of all, is not a very good one? Do we ever pause and think why it is that in the time it takes an immigration officer to process one of us, his or her colleagues process up to seven or eight passports of other countries, yes, including India?

These are important questions which we Pakistanis must ask ourselves, about which later. Let us first of all go to the latest outrage, nay monstrosity, which we have chucked at the world — the sentence of death pronounced upon Aasia Bibi a poor Christian woman of Sheikhupura district for a crime she simply could not have committed.

I mean, for heaven's sake, don't we know our own country, our own Sheikhupura, our own people? Is it at all possible that a Christian woman, belonging to a tiny minority which is already severely tormented by the very vast majority, its Muslim neighbours, would commit blasphemy in the manner alleged?

Every single time that a Christian has been accused of blasphemy I have said that the person should first of all be taken to a psychiatrist to determine whether he or she is mentally sound. For it makes no sense at all for members of the weak and dispossessed Christian community to commit this crime in this hard and pitiless country.

As to the specific charges in Aasia's case that she committed blasphemy after some Muslim women working in the fields with her refused to drink water from her glass, she would not on her own offer her glass in the first place. For, as yet another example of our intolerance, indeed plain hypocrisy, it is not done that a Muslim would use a Christian's utensils to drink or eat from. (And we have the gall to blame Hinduism for the caste system!) Ae hookah peenh alay

Two anecdotes come to mind. Once, in those far-off days when I was farming in Sheikhupura district, I was supervising some work in a field next to a track which led from our village to the next one. A man passing by saw a hookah belonging to one of my workers and asked if it was (literally) 'smokeable', in Punjabi “”.

I did not understand the question so asked what the man had said. “He is asking if this is hookah belongs to a Christian,” one of them said. I then said to the man that ours was a Christian village; that if he wanted to smoke the hookah he was welcome, otherwise he should be on his way. The fellow quietly sat down on his haunches and after a satisfying smoke walked on to his village. wangaar wangaar degh

The second was when I had asked for a , a great system prevalent in all farming societies in which neighbouring farmers gather to help one of their number get urgent work out of the way quickly. In Punjab, the farmer who asks for cooks a or two to provide sustenance to his helpers. munshi

It was at lunchtime that I noticed everybody else tucking away into their food and young Mehnga, Baba Qadir's son, sitting a little way away, not eating. When I asked why, my took me aside and said in low tones that Mehnga was waiting for his little brother to bring him his own plate so that he could eat.

Since all of them were eating out of my crockery, I immediately served Mehnga myself, and then announced that the plates being used were those that had been eaten from by Christians many times, indeed, my American and German and Swiss and Brit friends who would often come for weekends to my farm, sometimes for extended lunches, and which everyone present knew about.

What was it about Mehnga, I asked, the colour of his skin that he was not eating with them? There was not a squeak out of any one of them, I can tell you, and never again any such nonsense in Kot Hyat Khan.

So then, it is simply not possible that Aasia Bibi herself insisted that her Muslim co-workers drink from her glass, and when they did not, commit blasphemy. It is time that this horrendous law was amended to make it less harsh and one-sided. For we know that it has very often been used to victimise opponents and people who do not conform to the dictates of someone, not only Christian but many Muslim unfortunates too.

Let us all of us then, support the courageous Sherry Rehman in her efforts to amend the blasphemy laws by tabling a private members' bill in the National Assembly. Let us petition our political leaders to support this amendment so that the Damocles sword hanging above our poor and powerless minorities is removed once and for all. We must ensure that what happened to so many Pakistanis such as little Rehmat Masih's uncle, Manzoor Masih, who was shot dead in broad daylight while waiting for a bus after his nephew's court hearing); or to Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti who was shot dead after acquitting Rehmat Masih. n

Let us transform Pakistan from an ugly and cruel and merciless country to one that is beautiful and kind and compassionate.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

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