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Minorities in Pakistan
By Duriya Hashmi
November 25 2014
Condemning the barbarous lynching of a Christian couples accused of blasphemy, Vatican has recently issued a strong statement terming the incident an insult to humanity and Islam itself. 

The burnt remains of Shamma and Shehzad may not have stirred the social conscience but the Vatican comment should come as a rude awakening for Pakistan’s great Islamic democracy. 

The sate and its god-fearing people must respond to this humiliation brought to Islam by none other than the self-righteous believers of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Not only the national honour but the entire Umma’s image is at stake. 

What can they do to save Islam from its most zealot custodians in its nuclear armed citadel? What does it take to stop bloodthirsty vigilantes or a petty cleric issuing a death decree against anyone he wishes? The answer lies more in an effective rule of law, among other things, than explaining the complexities of law. 

When it comes to the repeal or amendment in the Blasphemy Law, those wandering in the corridors of power with an absolute majority — more than required to pass or reject a law — would make you believe that the issue is a tinderbox. But it is not or at least not as explosive as portrayed.

If Pakistani legislators can give nod to such potentially repressive laws like PPA,  they must show the grit to review the Blasphemy Law. According to a US report, 14 Pakistanis are on death row while 19 serving life sentence on blasphemy convictions. Back in 2010, when Sherry Rehamn had proposed to amend the blasphemy law, the PPP government had far less support both in the houses of the parliament and among the political conservatives compared to what PMLN now enjoys or may haggle. 

If a woman parliamentarian can put forward a private bill why do the macho legislators lack courage to even unanimously suggest a repeal or at least amend the contempt of religion law? Is this cowardice that stops male lawmakers, who, when out to show their might, put the Parliament under siege or attack Supreme Court but can’t raise their voices to protect the lives of innocent people whose mandate they thrive on?

Following the Azadi March, the clamours of ‘saving democracy’ brought almost all political parties on a same page for their vested interest. When was the last time they gathered to pass a resolution condemning religious violence? Democracy and governance go hand in hand, however the ruling PMLN has failed to refute the accusations of state-sanctioned persecution of minorities across Pakistan, particularly in the Punjab. A political will may redress the grievances against the right-wing party and bring a glint of hope for the religious minorities living under constant fear of blasphemy. If the ‘whole machinery’ of Punjab government can be moved to contain a high-profile cleric in Model Town, then the atrocities of Josef Colony or Kot Radha Kishan would rightly be blamed on PMLN’s obvious inaction not the ‘undemocratic forces’ bent on halting the ‘caravan of progress’. 

The newly converted ‘moderates’ of PMLN can ban YouTube quite audaciously but perhaps  they need army’s support to regulate the misuse of loudspeaker by the clerics of Punjab.  

Wishful thinking it may sound, but the inconsistencies of political discourse suggest that Pakistani society still has a space to debate the draconian laws enforced only to hush the difference of opinion or belief.

If words can be articulated to condemn cases like the death sentence of Asia Bibi or Shama and Shehzad’s murder they could be drafted well in legal documents to speak louder. If veterans like Aitzaz Ahsan can team up with the media for the restoration of justice or ‘roar’ in the assembly to defend democratic process, they can mobilise legal fraternity and judiciary for the progressive changes in laws as well. Where judges affix Khalil Jibran to their verdicts, nothing should bar them from signing an appeal against a victim of trumped up blasphemy accusations. When a rowdy mullah fails to budge the ‘unislamic’ dharna ,chances are the move to propose amendment in blasphemy law may go ahead. If the transformation of Alims into gameshow hosts can go down well with the people of a conservative society, changing public opinion on blasphemy can’t be deemed improbable either.

Originally published by ViewPoint 

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