As part of a reporting assignment for a feature story on the blasphemy law in Pakistan, my colleague and I visited a Hindu temple in Karachi. We were fortunate enough to be allowed to take pictures inside the temple – where cameras are normally prohibited.
Having seen Hindu deities only in Bollywood movies before, I was fascinated by how the gods and goddesses were captured by hard lines and bold colors. The sheer vibrance of the scene sent me in a clicking frenzy.
I thought it only fair to share my aesthetically satisfying experience by posting those pictures on Facebook. An uncommon sight in Pakistan, it was sure to get a reaction out of my photographically-inclined friends.
And reactions I did get; none of which spoke about my pictures.
One of my closest friends, a Muslim, commented on a picture of Kaali Maa. She later defended the comment, which was in regards to the severed head of a demon the goddess holds in one of her hands, in a humorous context rather than an offense to anyone.
This did not go down well with my Hindu friends, inevitably an avalanche of “hate notifications” was promptly sent my way.
In hopes of getting an apology from the Muslim friend, I was further rebuked for putting up pictures of Hindu deities in the first place. (I must have missed the law against it.)
Caught between colourful accusations from both sides about the others religion, I was momentarily disoriented about what the crux of the issue actually was. It would be a good time to tell you here that I am a practicing Christian – Protestant.
I struggled to wrap my mind around this sudden and immense burst of hatred I felt from people I loved dearly. Amid the blame game it was interesting to be pointed out as an “irresponsible” minority.
What was ironic was that these pictures were part of a project highlighting the blasphemy law itself!
My agenda-less attempt at photography had somehow turned into a vicious ‘Muslim-hate-Hindu, Hindu-hate-Christian’ circle. I was baffled at the degree of intolerance – which before this I knew was breeding in some strata of society – just not mine.
Torn between lifelong friendships and this growing sense of disgust at the holier than thou, I found myself wondering who these people really were and how I had managed to befriend them. Who, without a moment’s hesitation, had brazenly uncloaked themselves, daggers drawn, gallantly rising as defenders of their respective faiths, waving this seemingly legitimate permission slip in my face which allowed them to validate themselves over the “other” – who had created this very strong moral sense of right and wrong in any religious group?
Perhaps what was most terrifying for me to realise was that religious intolerance seemed to be strongest among educated, prosperous people.
In view of the latest speculations over the blasphemy law in the country, asking for a repeal of it seems utterly hopeless when you realise how second nature it is for an overwhelming majority of the population to “make jokes” about prophets, gods and goddesses. The solution lies not in merely the changing of any laws but mindsets – The daunting task of convincing people to be kind.
Today’s “Quote of the week” section in the Dawn Newspaper has one of Napoleon’s finest:
“The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people.”
So then good people, what do you have to say?
Zeresh John is a multimedia content producer for Dawn.com.
The views expressed in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.