Blasphemy: It is more than legal now
September 07, 2012
The incarceration of 11-year old Christian girl Rimsha and the latest twist in this whole saga on Sunday, September 2, has once again brought into the limelight the issue of blasphemy law and its misuse. It is not that the blasphemy issue is new or is peculiar to Islam and Pakistan. But the severity of the punishment for the accused, its procedure and its misuse by some elements has not only brought the country to headlines for all the wrong reasons internationally, but has also raised the fear of further marginalization of religious minorities, already pushed to the wall. And not only this, the recent increase in registration of cases on blasphemy charges and the incidences of mob-justice meted out to some of the accused, have indicated that the misuse of blasphemy has the potential of jeopardizing the lives of the Muslims in times to come.
Blasphemy, broadly speaking, means irreverence to; or desecration of; or showing contempt or insulting religious deities or symbols in a way that may hurt the sentiments of a particular religious group which may hold them in highest esteem. There are many developed courtiers in the world where laws exist to discourage the eventuality of such happenings and to refrain members of a particular religious group to desecrate or insult religious symbols or beliefs of others. The sole purpose of which is to maintain peace and prevent violence in society. But the punishments for such crime are symbolic in most of the countries where such laws do exist, including the US, the UK, Germany, Australia, India and even Denmark, because, religion and having certain religious beliefs are generally considered to be personal matters of an individual. The sole purpose of these laws in different secular states is to maintain peace and prevent violence in society.
The legacy of blasphemy laws in India and Pakistan is British. But the laws relating to blasphemy which now exist in Pakistan are not what the British framed for us. The law that exists in India today prescribes a maximum of three years jail or fine or both; and it’s for all the religions. While the changes made during General Ziaul Haq period in blasphemy laws in Pakistan carry punishments like life-term or even death (Sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of PPC); and they are Islam-specific. Aakar Patel, writing in contemporary English daily, says that according a group of Pakistani Christians ‘only seven cases were registered in the undivided India and Pakistan from 1927 to 1986’. However, he further states, ‘[t]he National Commission for Justice and Peace says that in the last 25 years, 1,058 cases of blasphemy were registered’ in Pakistan; 57 percent of them against non-Muslim citizens. Many ascribe the tendency in increase of registration of blasphemy cases to the severe punishment prescribed by these laws, settling personal scores and the sectarian hatred that has spread in different parts of the country. This assertion is supplemented by figures of cases between January and July 2012, in which 78 percent were registered in Punjab alone.
But some analysts and academics go a step further and say that the blasphemy issue has now become more societal and political rather legal. And it is a fact that in certain cases even mentally retarded accused were dragged out of police custody, sprinkled with petrol and burnt alive in city squares; some died in jails; still more killed in broad daylight after being exonerated by courts of law against charges leveled against them. The situation has now reached a stage where so-called mosque clerics like Khalid Jadoon Chishti in the country’s capital are now indulging themselves in fabrication of false cases against 11-year-old minors who happen to belong to a religion not of their liking. He even claimed what Rimsha did was a ‘conspiracy’ – 11-year old-child and conspiracy! And people who are supposed to be the guardian of the rule of law, the lawyers, shower with rose petals the cold-blooded murderer of a man who had only suggested changes in a man-made law.
It’s high time someone took the initiative, particularly the political leadership and the media; the political leadership should show courage and introduce the required legislation, while the media should enlighten the people that the laws existing in the statute books are the handiwork of a human being and are not the word of God; as no specific punishment has been proscribed either in theHoly Quran or the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH). Because without public awareness and support, the political leaders, both in government and opposition, cannot comment on this law let alone bringing about changes in it. The examples of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer and the then federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti are so fresh to be forgotten. The study of circumstances suggests that Salman Taseer visited Asiya Bibi and issued a statement hinting at amending the blasphemy laws on the jail premises at the behest of the President of Pakistan. But look at the helplessness that the country’s president could not save him from the wrath of Mumtaz Qadri, or drive the state to make substantial progress in his case. The president is even clueless about the kidnappers of his son after more than a year now. No one should take respite over the police efficiency, reprimanding Molvi Khalid Jadoon Chishti while whisking him away out of the court premises because he is also now a blasphemy accused and not because he framed a child of another religion in false case, jeopardizing the lives of a whole community living in his area.
Imran Khan says blasphemy law is necessary because in its absence people would be lynched and there would be anarchy. Nobody says some law is not necessary to maintain peace, but not this one in its present shape because it has failed to discourage lynching of the people or our gradual sliding to anarchy. Laws are made to protect the lives of the people, not the other way round. It is feared that if the trend has not been arrested tomorrow it will be more Muslims who will be targeted once people like Mumtaz Qadri and Khalid Jadoon are done with the vulnerable non-Muslims. For the sake of discouraging the downward slide of society as a whole and protecting the citizens from religious zealots, someone has to do something. And now!