By Sadaf Alvi
The treatment of minorities in the judicial system, under the blasphemy law, has become the most profound human rights crisis facing Pakistan in 2016. SC’s failure to hold the pressure of religious fanatics and refusal to Asia Bibi’s final appeal hearing not only undermines any progress that we have made in ensuring NAP but also calls into doubt our faith in the rule of law.
In practice, the blasphemy law has become an instrument of rivalry, personal vendetta and maleficent motive. Mostly, the accused has never even committed any blasphemy and it’s just the violent extremism that’s being justified in the name of fighting blasphemy. This practice reviews the effects of unequal treatment on the religious minorities in particular and on the criminal judicial system generally.
Today, the stories of minorities being mistreated are so frequent and the loss of a human life at the hands of fanatics acting under the name of honor, religion and blasphemy is so steady that we know the next one is as sure to come as Monday will follow Sunday.
I am bringing up this story to press the point that we are living with a legacy. The legacy that sets the stage in for Pakistan’s most prolific Test spinner Danish Kaneria utter the words, “Every avenue has dried up for me in Pakistan; I seem to have no takers for my appeals from the PCB. I am dying. It is because I am a Hindu, a minority in Pakistan. It is because I refused to admit my involvement in spot-fixing when the England and Wales Cricket Board charged me. I want to be heard, is it very difficult to hear me out?”
Now if you think I’m painting the picture too dark, just last year, when the world of physics applauded the discovery of the ‘God-particle’, CNN’s report said:
“Imagine a world where the merchant of death is rewarded, while a scientific visionary is disowned and forgotten. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, the first Muslim to win the Physics’ prize helped lay the groundwork that led to the Higgs Boson breakthrough. And yet in Pakistani schools, his name is erased from the text books…”
—more evidence of this legacy.
The callous disregard for human life is part of the legacy I’m talking about. The pervasive lack of empathy for the people who don’t share the same faith as a particular group of extremists or—in contemporary times—for the lives of people like Shahbaz Bhatti, Dr. Chaudry Abdul Khaleeq (an Ahmadi doctor), Suleman Hadayat Masih (a Christian teenager), Khurram Zaki (a social rights activist who belonged to Shia community), Tanzila Amjad and Shazia Murtaza (political victims of Model Town) lead me to believe no amount of policy changes will make a major difference if we don’t address the underlying cause that is at the heart of this behavior-lack of empathy.
As I read the heart-wrenching stories of people falling victim to this legacy, it occurred to me that the cruel overseer and the countless other masses who witnessed all manner of brutality and unjust treatment, yet did nothing, are to be blamed equally. Heartlessness does not come naturally; it has to be learned and a culture of heartlessness is one of the legacies that seem to linger, still today.
I don’t think that the indifferent masses, sadistic overseers, unfair judges and the brutal police were born this way—but I do believe they all were conditioned to be so. Same goes for those who don’t directly participate in inciting violence and doing harm to others yet knowingly look the other way and do nothing to stop it. Extremism itself and the callous disregard for the victims of extremism are both the part of this legacy that was handed down to us.
The peculiar institution of fanaticism did more than taking lives; it also conditioned a nation of deaf and blind to lack empathy— to demonstrate the callous disregard for human suffering. That legacy is still with us and it has to be addressed if we are ever to come to terms with our issues regarding peace and interfaith harmony.
At this point, any reader will likely be thinking that I have lost all the hope. And, to be completely honest, there are times I come pretty close. Today, when I read that Supreme Court has adjourned hearing of the final appeal against the execution of Asia Bibi, I began to feel that hopelessness again. But something usually happens to change my perspective.
This time, what gave me hope is the amount of support I’ve seen for Asia Bibi from the Pakistani youths who are not a religious minority themselves. While not reaching the level that’d be indicative of coming to terms with our past, the educated youths are doing a lot more than the previous generations did, or so it seems to me.