The Pakistani state needs to own up its responsibilities
When politics plays, the poor die. That has been there for thousands of years and will remain there for as long as humans live, and their aspirations live. John Milton’s assertion that “the root of all evil is man” often seems true, especially when it comes to politics—the most favourite game of human beings. It is favourite because it gives them power. The power—an illusion, man has been haunted by for millennia. Everything that comes in the way of this illusion is enemy, whether it is innocent or guilty, he or she, concerned or unconcerned.
In Pakistan, politics of religion is not a new phenomenon. It has been used time and again for political gains by many. Be it the establishment, most of the political parties, religious scions or leaders. It has proved to be a useful tool to manoeuver or formulate public opinion whenever they please. This blatant misuse of religion has been going on from centuries ever-since British ruled the subcontinent.
Similar to their many “gifts” which they left behind in the subcontinent, the blasphemy law is among those. The law was introduced by the British Government in 1860 to protect religious sentiments and was further expanded in 1927. The purpose of initiating this law by the British was to prevent any religious clashes that may occur between Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent. The maximum punishment for a person accused of committing blasphemy under the British law was 10 years in jail, the inclusion of fine or no fine depended on the case. It should be noted that only seven cases accusing individuals of blasphemy were reported in the British era.
Pakistan, when it came to being in 1947, fully inherited this law. The country saw a rapid increase in blasphemy cases, especially after the developments which occurred in 1980s. The laws were expanded in several steps throughout the era in an effort by the then military dictator to use religion Islam for his own political motives and intents but, unfortunately, the country suffered such misuse by General Zia-ul-Haq in the worst form possible as was witnessed in the later decades as Pakistanis were jailed, shot, lynched and burnt alive, all in the name of the blasphemy law.
With the rise of extremism and militancy in Pakistan, in the last few years, the people of Pakistan are unfortunately no longer strangers to individuals taking matters of law in their own hands and apprehending those accused of blasphemy. According to the data provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, since 1987, a total number of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law.
The latest case of a Christian couple being burnt in a brick kiln by an enraged mob in a village near Kasur has yet again raised many questions on not only the worsening law and order situation of Pakistan or the shredding fabric of a rapidly desensitised society, but has focused the attention on how long the state will continue to be held hostage by these man-made laws and will silently continue its policy of appeasement, just to save its political face.
When faced with all this, one dares to question why have we made religion such a sensitive and a dangerous matter in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where any debate on the matter of religion is avoided – at best? Has religion in Pakistan become a mission for personal vendetta?
In a country where political leaders use this terrible affair of blasphemy laws because they might serve as another ladder to their political ambitions; and for the government it might have been another messy day of business that eventually passed. But, for the people who lost their loved ones and those who were affected – the scars of these incidents will live with them forever. The people who lost their family members would not be able to forget this tragedy, and the monstrous remnants of this day will haunt them and their coming generations. Because the tragedy does not end with an incident, it goes on with the sufferings of those who are left behind.
As Alex Lennnox said, “Humankind seems to have an enormous capacity for savagery, for brutality, for lack of empathy, for lack of compassion.” This saying sits accurately with the nightmarish events which occurred in the village and also shows how apathetic the society of Pakistan has become. Life seems to have no longer any value in the country, and society apparently has become deaf, dumb and blind where there is a complete realization of how these laws are misused and the Christian couple would perhaps be not the last victim of these laws.
It seems the state of Pakistan has become a banana republic where the citizens have no rights and anyone who dares to express their opinion is condemned. Freedom of expression, democracy and the right to ask a question, have merely become empty slogans.
It is essential that the perpetrators of this event are brought to justice so to stop such further incidents from occurring. The onus of responsibility now lies with the state of Pakistan to take a conclusive step where such acts are concerned. The state of Pakistan now needs to redefine its policies and laws if it truly wants to project a better image in the world.