September was a month of ironies. Sharoon was beaten to death by his classmate for the crime of being a Christian, and so died the dream of Ilyasab Masih, a brick kiln worker in Bhurewala, of breaking the chains of poverty and discrimination by educating his son.
The murder of members of the Christian community is common place in Pakistan. However this case is somewhat different. It is one of a handful where the victim was not even ostensibly accused of blasphemy or some other imaginary crime to justify the pious rage of his classmates, as in the case of Mashal Khan in April. Sharoon was beaten to death simply because he was a “Choohra”- Unworthy and untouchable, of the wrong religion in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Here we see the head of the monster in all its wickedness, pure and unadulterated religious hatred for the other, unconfused or obfuscated by any allegations or sacrilege.
It was in the same month that news of genocide of Burma’s Muslim minority was received with horror around the world, including Pakistan. It may have been an occasion for us to ponder upon our attitudes towards of our own minorities; a time of national reflection perhaps? But it was not to be so. As ironies abound when there is a currency for bravado at the cost of compassion, the Rohingya crises galvanised the very elements that advocate the institutionalized discrimination of minorities in our own land.
Among these is Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLR), famous for his firebrand oratory combining declarations of love for the Prophet (pbuh) while swearing like a sailor, calling out on social media to adoring disciples, for the Muhammad bin Qasim of the age to heed the cries of Muslim women in Burma; a reference to popular historical folklore that the 8th century warrior invaded Sind upon hearing the cries of two Arab women.
And among those that did heed these cries was Amir Liaqat, a public proponent for the murder of Ahmadi’s, who set off on a Jehad atop a Boeing 747 to rescue Burmese Muslims, after advertising his quixotic mission on social media, only to have it picked up by Burmese immigration who put him on the next flight home. Honour was salvaged, Islam was rescued, and in the very same month another Ahmadi was shot dead for the crime of being an Ahmadi. But no righteous rage here, no calls for Muhammad bin Qasim, not so much as a peep of condemnation.
On a side note, the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah entered mainstream politics, at the Lahore by-election, on a one point agenda; to institutionalise the widest possible use of the Blasphemy law under its widest possible definition. It is unlikely that they will win the 2018 elections, or even a seat in parliament. What is likely, however, is that mainstream candidates in urban Punjab, in a tooth and nail fight for the winning vote, will indulge the tantrums of this blasphemy brigade. Lord have mercy on us. And it is no consolation that the TLR got only 7,000 or so votes (6% of votes cast). 7,000 are enough foot soldiers in a single constituency to enforce Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s dictatorship by fatwa.
Also in September came the conclusion of a Joint Investigations Team’s finding in the case of Mashal Khan’s murder by lynching earlier this year. This report grimly told us what we already knew; that there is no evidence that Mashal Khan committed blasphemy. Why should we be surprised? When has a mob ever asked for evidence? The crux of the JIT report is simply this: that evidence does not matter in instances of blasphemy accusations; that an accusation of blasphemy is in itself a death sentence. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that. Those of us who saw the gruesome video of his fellow students falling upon Mashal like wild animals, should know that such mortal animosity does not require an act of religious provocation, but the mere whisper of one, and Mischief , thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt (Julies Caesar); a reality not lost upon Mashal’s conspirators.
Ru-e sukhan hai keedhar ahl-e-jahan ka ya rab
Sab muttafiq hain is par, har eik ka khuda hai
– Mir Taqi Mir
In every direction they pray, O Lord
For each has a God of their own
Events of the month
30th August – A Christian school boy, Sharoon Masih was lynched by a classmate at Government MC Model High School for Boys, Bhurewala for drinking water from a glass used by other students. Sharoon died on the spot, and was taken to hospital by students when the teachers refused to act.
12th September – At the behest of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), an anti-terrorism court (ATC) charged four persons for allegedly publishing blasphemous content on social media. Bail applications were dismissed and judicial remand was ordered. One of the accused is a university professor.
13th September – Aasia Bibi nominated for European Union’s most prestigious human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.
14th September – A Christian man, Nadeem James, who was charged under sections 295A and 295C in 2016, over a Wattsapp message, following an altercation with a friend, was handed the death penalty at the conclusion of his trial in District Jail Gujrat.
14th September – Anti terrorism court (ATC) in Haripur KPK charges 57 people in mob lynching case of Mashal Khan over blasphemy allegation in April 2017. A Joint Investigation Team submitted its report concluding that blasphemy charges could not be proved against Mashal Khan and that his murder was pre-planned by people including university employees.
27th September – Justice Shaukat Aziz of the Islamabad High Court issues notice to Secretary Ministry of Interior to take action over blasphemous content on Facebook.
27th September – Ahmadi man shot dead in Quetta.
28th September – Four people including a bride and groom were arrested and charged under section 295A in Jamshoro, Sindh, when a video of them emerged on social media conducting a marriage under the Code of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, whereby a marriage is solemnized by reciting the poetry of the Sindhi scholar, mystic, saint, and poet.
29th September – Two sweepers, Vishal Tariq, a Christian, and Bhola Ram a Hindu are charged under section 295B in Haroonabad, Bahawalnager, when they disposed of rubbish that was handed to them, after which a hospital employee claimed the heap contained verses of the Holy Quran.