THE most obvious implication of the burning of a man to death in Bahawalpur is the brutality of Pakistani society when it comes to alleged blasphemy cases. In this instance the victim was also mentally ill, proving once again that the law is blatantly abused and punishment doled out without evidence or reason. But Tuesday’s incident is also a reminder that in the face of blasphemy allegations, the country’s justice and law-enforcement systems are helpless. The victim was pried out of a police station that was also set on fire. This follows two similar incidents in June, when mobs attacked police stations in Quetta and Karachi to demand that blasphemy suspects — one a drug addict and the other mentally ill — be handed over. Last year some lawyers and religious groups demanded that the judge who sentenced Salmaan Taseer’s killer to death be handed over to them, though thankfully he did not meet the fate of Justice Arif Bhatti, who was killed in his office in 1997 for striking down allegations of blasphemy against two Christians. Over a decade has passed since that incident, and the state has yet to make clear in no uncertain terms that vigilante justice is not acceptable simply because the case happens to be one of blasphemy. The Punjab government is particularly guilty of this, turning a blind eye to the way in which right-wing groups abuse and support the law in that province.
The other alarming aspect of the incident is that it is yet another instance of a mob taking justice into its own hands, a problem not limited to blasphemy cases. The size of these groups makes it difficult to hold anyone responsible; who will be held to account in the Bahawalpur case, for example, when 2,000 people have been booked and no one named? From rioters destroying shops and vehicles to protest energy shortages, to the Sialkot lynching case, to the blasphemy incidents mentioned here, all the evidence says that intolerance and lack of compassion, combined with lack of faith in the state and the justice system, has turned Pakistan into a shockingly brutal society.