For over six decades we have confused, manipulated and twisted the ideology behind the creation of our state. We denied principles that could have prevented us from reaching the brink. In February 1948 in a broadcast to the people of the US on Pakistan , Jinnah said the following:
“The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fair-play to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims –Hindus, Christians, and Parsis –but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
Today, after nearly 63 years of independence we are still struggling to accept all factions of society and grant them their due roles, rights and standing. Almost six decades after the address, the inherited traditions, practicality, and sense of justice have been replaced by fanatical theories. Over time only the faces have changed, while the fanatic ideology remains unscathed.
Last year in Gojra, when an angry mob set fire to more than 40 houses and a church, two children, their parents and 75-year-old grandfather were burnt to death. Three days later, two more Christians were killed after an unfounded accusation of blasphemy, which ultimately turned out to be a private dispute between employees. Almost a year after the tragic incident two Christian brothers accused of distributing blasphemous material were gunned down on the premises of the sessions court.
Most of these incidents bear a striking resemblance. Before the tragic attack in Gojra, mosques were used to make announcements provoking the attack. Locals were urged to 'make mincemeat of the Christians' before Gojra. Similarly, in Daoodnagar announcements were made from mosques asking people to come out to ‘fight rampaging’ Christians.
There seems to be no regulatory body to maintain a check on these well-planned and deadly atrocities. HRCP statistics on the misuse of the blasphemy law stress the need for immediate action in order to stop the abuse of the law.
Between 1927 and 1986 there were less than 10 reported cases of blasphemy. From 1986 onwards, however, as many as 4,000 cases have been reported. Between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people, of which 50 per cent were non-Muslim, with offences under the blasphemy laws. More than 20 people have been murdered for alleged blasphemy. Two-thirds of all the cases have occurred in Punjab. A study of the cases suggests that the blasphemy laws are invoked either when the cases have been lodged merely to settle scores, or when the issue is that of expressing one’s faith, or when the accused is known to be suffering from some sort of mental illness.
The recent case of 60-year-old Zaibunnisa, is a striking example of the extent to which the law has been abused. She was held without trial for 14 years on allegations of desecrating the Holy Quran. For 16 years she was left to languish in the prison section of a mental asylum. There is absolutely no justification for all these years she spent in prison.
It is shameful that we show no scruples in accepting this system. While we fight the Taliban, the fanatic mindset, which is rampant, requires immediate action. The rights of minorities can no longer be sabotaged. Repression of basic humanitarian rights will only lead to a chaotic backlash. The blasphemy laws have imparted irreparable damage to the social fabric of the country. Until immediate action is taken to stop abuse of the law, many more lives will be lost.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.