I attended a convent school for a few years during my childhood. The only time I remember being split up from my classmates was during Islamiyat class. The Islamiyat teacher would come in and ask us girls to pull out our white duppattas while the Christian girls would form a line and exit the classroom for their own lessons in the bigger hall. None of us ever really questioned the practice – we would study our religion and they would study theirs – it made perfect sense. Never did we think that the school or this country weren’t big and bold enough to host both together. Now, however, times have changed. Tolerance and respect are two virtues that were kidnapped a long, long time ago – they remain missing even today.

A 13-year-old girl was recently expelled from her school due to alleged blasphemy. She misspelled the word ‘naat’ and that was reason enough for the school to expel her. Not for a minute did anyone pay attention to the fact that she was a student – a learner. She should have been taught what the right word was, what the right spelling was and what the mistake she made was. But instead, she was expelled, while her mother, who was a nurse, was transferred out of her hometown near Abbotabad. All that for a spelling mistake made by someone who until that day, was probably oblivious to what blasphemy even meant.

But before we get into the debate of whether she should have been coached or punished, we should ask, as pointed out in other blogs, why was a Christian girl being made to learn a ‘naat’ anyway? And if she actually was aware of what blasphemy meant and what the consequences of going against that law in Pakistan are, would she have actually done this just to stir some mischief?

To cause a bit of a commotion in class, we would often hide teacher’s books, pretend to be sick, pick on the nerds and pass secret notes – never did we think of initiating a rebellion against religion – especially not if we knew that the worst form of punishment to such an act would be death! Not detention, not suspension, not a letter to the parents, but death. Lucky for the 13-year-old girl, the not-so-harsh-hearted Muslim clerics decided that expulsion out of the school and the town would be enough to teach a lesson. Sadly, what these clerics and teachers don’t realise is, you teach a lesson through books, anecdotes, lectures and nurturing – not through condemnation, alienation and humiliation.

But who is going to point these things out? The government’s too busy fighting international threats to focus on the internal ones breeding throughout the country. The few who do take a stand are shot down and although they might not be forgotten, their sacrifices often are. We cause a hue and cry about educating our children and spreading awareness but who needs this education if all it does is create hatred and differences? Who needs this awareness if all it does is build fear and prejudices?

The writer is the Deputy Editor at Dawn.com

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