No looking back for us

April 06, 2012

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WHO was Master Abdul Qudoos Ahmad? How would you know even if you care? The 43-year-old schoolteacher’s story received scant attention in the media.

Described by his students and peers as a well-known and ‘much-loved’ schoolteacher, perhaps far more ominously for him, he was also the president of the Nusratabad chapter of the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya in Rabwah.

He was taken into custody on Feb 10 after a murder in his area. There were no warrants, no police remand. Since the man was never formally charged or even remanded in police custody, wouldn’t one be right in assuming him to be innocent?

While in custody, apart from the routine ‘hang him upside down and beat him black and blue till he confesses’, the schoolteacher was also pinned to the floor by policemen holding his legs and arms and a weighted wooden down roller run over him causing untold internal injuries.

He was released without charge some 46, yes 46, days later. In fact, his family were told by the police to take him home as he was unwell. He had been subjected to severe torture. The family were made to sign a blank piece of paper.

From the police station, the family took Master Qudoos to hospital where doctors tried to revive his crushed body. Four days later, ongoing ‘internal bleeding and severe loss of blood’ drained whatever life the police had left in his body.There may be elements of the case I may not be familiar with but it is clear he was kept in illegal confinement for a month and a half and subjected to torture. The local community believes he was thus treated because biased policemen wanted to defame and humiliate the Ahmadis and did so by targeting a respected community leader.

The police have now admitted Master Abdul Qudoos was ‘innocent’ and have promised action against some constables (with no known arrests) but crucial questions remain about the level of involvement as an innocent man was held and tortured at a police station not in some private jail.

Surely, some senior officers would have heard him screaming for mercy, been aware of the torture. Would you blame members of the persecuted and hounded Ahmadi community for believing they won’t get justice because soon the case will be forgotten by all but the victim’s widow and four children?

I wouldn’t because they are right in all probability. Let me share with you why I feel so. The incident came into focus because activists raised it on social media though to be fair a Pakistani TV channel or two also covered the story in passing.However, one’s attention was drawn to it, as a Twitter discussion developed on why the media and others weren’t following up on a police torture death in custody with the same vigour as a slap by a Sindh Assembly candidate, or for example the killing of a suspect by the Rangers in a Karachi park.

The obvious question was whether the human rights of some — in this case the most basic right to life of an Ahmadi — had precedence over the others’. Despite being nearly certain this was the case, one still put the hypothesis to test, perhaps rather naively.

Twitter is monitored by all major political parties, many government functionaries. Some of the more responsive personalities on Twitter are Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Yes, I know some of you will say that these personalities don’t manage their Twitter accounts themselves and aides look after them. The argument here is not whether they read and respond to Tweets themselves or someone else does, it is in their names.

For example after Osama bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad last May, Indian NDTV presenter Barkha Dutt tweeted, asking Rehman Malik for a visa. The interior minister responded, telling her who to contact at the Pakistan mission in New Delhi. A few days later she arrived in Islamabad.

There are similar examples of Shahbaz Sharif, who has responded to tweets positively off and on. Maryam Nawaz Sharif always responds whenever one has sought her attention and defends her party’s position. She promises to ask the Punjab government to look into an issue like she did when someone asked her for a laptop.

So, when Master Abdul Qudoos Ahmad’s tragic story came into the public domain one requested many official/party functionaries to look into the matter so justice could be provided to his shattered family.

Guess what? There wasn’t a single response: a silence as dark as the darkness that must fill the lives of Abdul Qudoos’s family.

Isn’t it enough we ruled on their faith and legislated them out of the folds of Islam? Couldn’t we stop there?

Esteemed columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee often quoted from the address of the Quaid-i-Azam to the members of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, on Aug 11, 1947:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state ... We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state ... I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

Jinnah died on Sept 11, 1948. Exactly six months and a day after his death, we buried his dream, adopted the Objectives Resolution and made religion the business of the state. And we haven’t felt the need to look back since.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com