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Guilty till proven innocent: family of ‘blasphemer’ lives in trauma

Published Aug 31, 2012 09:01pm

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Police officers escorting a detained man. — Photo by AP/File

CHAKWAL, Aug 31: The scene in front of the court of Additional District and Session Judge Chakwal on Wednesday captured the divides that blasphemy cases bring with them.

Squatting under a tree on the premises of the district courts, Fauzia, 14, could hardly control her tears.

Misery, fear and distress were written large on her face. Nearby her mother and grandmother wept silently as her 10-year-old brother Aon spoke with their father, a blasphemy accused, sitting in the lock-up.

Another group of six men in the veranda were desperately discussing the case, trying to find a ray of hope.

Far away in a distant lawn, the mood was the exact opposite: a crowd of 25-30 men, most of them religious clerics were in high spirits.

Fauzia’s father had worked as a primary school teacher in tehsil Talagang of Chakwal district before he was booked on the charges of blasphemy under sections 295-C and 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code on November 17, 2011.

The court of Additional District and Sessions Judge Raja Pervez Akhtar adjourned the hearing till September 4 after getting the witnesses’ account. The court has also summoned SP Yahiya Virk who conducted the inquiry.

The primary school teacher life changed forever when he went out to refuel his motorbike on November 2, 2011.

On his arrival at a local filling station, he was inadvertently drawn into a debate on the interpretation of conjugal rights granted under Islam.

Little did he know that his differing interpretation on the matter would irk those present. Just two weeks later Naseer Ahmad, a villager, had moved an application against him for committing blasphemy before Saddar Police Station of Talagang.

The local clergy too picked up the matter and started instigating the public against him: the teacher was declared a “malaun” (the condemned) and a fatwa was issued against him.

He was eventually arrested by the police and sent to a lock-up in Jhelum Prison.

For the last 10 months, the blasphemy accused has seen a stormy trial.

Every time his case would be heard by the Additional District and Session Judge Talagang Rana Zahoor, a swarm of clerics would descend on the court premises.

Eventually, his attorney Azad Hussain had to request the judge to transfer the case to Chakwal.

Meanwhile, his two children, wife, mother and other family members live in severe trauma. In fact, the local clerics find them guilty by association.

The blasphemy accused brothers were barred from pursuing the case and threatened with dire consequences. It was only when another community member, Azad Hussain, stepped in that the accused found himself an attorney.

Later, Qari Banaras, the Imam of the village mosque, in his Friday sermons urged the villagers to boycott the family.

“We are not allowed to speak to any villager neither are we allowed to attend the funerals and marriages of other villagers even of our close relatives,” lamented Ghulam Ali Qasim, the younger brother of the primary school teacher.

A couple of weeks ago when the father-in-law of another brother passed away, Qasim claims he was not allowed to offer the funeral prayers.

“My brother went to attend the funeral prayer but he was thrown out of the row on the order of the imam,” revealed Qasim.

“We are spending a highly miserable life fraught with panic and fear as we are being given life threats by the clerics,” moaned Kalsoom, the blasphemy accused’s wife.

She further told Dawn that she had sold her goat and a cow, the only two animals at the house, to fight for her husband.

“I’m not even allowed to meet my parents in the village,” Kalsoom narrated as tears flowed down her eyes.

Fauzia recently passed her ninth grade exams, but told Dawn that her friends have stopped talking to her because of the clerics.

“No girl at school talks to me,” she said while weeping.

“I want to be a doctor but now I’m unable to read due to misery and panic caused by the arrest of my father,” she added.

When contacted, the complainant Naseer Ahmad said that he did not want to give any comment as the matter was in the court.

On the other hand, Qari Banaras had an interesting reply when his attention was drawn to the plight of the blasphemy accused’s family.

“His wife should live with her parents as she lost the authority to live with her husband after he committed blasphemy,” he maintained.

It may be mentioned here that in Talagang, the counsel of every complainant in every case of blasphemy is Advocate Tariq Mehmood.

“Allah has chosen me to fight such cases against the condemned people,” he told Dawn.