Statement from the NEW SOCIALIST INITIATIVE, Delhi
History is said to be made when humanity has tried to break asunder forces of unreason, irrationality, bigotry, intolerance and reaction which keep reappearing in newer forms in its onward journey. But what can one say when it tries to do the exact opposite, or prefer to go back on the path undertaken.
Pakistan, a country of 170 millions, stands at a similar juncture today.
A woman has been sentenced to death, for the first time in Pakistan’s sixty year old history, for an alleged act of blasphemy against Islam, an act which itself abhors modern sensibilities. All attempts by justice loving persons in Pakistan to stop the impending execution of this agricultural labourer, Aasia Bibi, who is a mother of five children and belongs to Christian minority community, seems to have reached a dead end. Whether she would ever be able to get glimpses of the outside world, free from the shackles which bind her today, remains uncertain. The story of her conviction under the infamous blasphemy law has been told umpteen times. We know how her troubles started when she had a fight with her fellow workers on some petty issue which culminated in their charging her under this law. She has been languishing in jail for around one and a half year now.
Under this law, which was introduced under the Zia Ul Haque regime in mid-eighties, anyone can be charged claiming that s/he showed disrespect towards founder of Islam or Quranic scriptures. Although nobody has faced judicial execution under this law till date, many have been killed by reactionary forces after their acquittal by the court. The act has been freely used to terrorise minorities or used to settle personal scores. Recently one Doctor Naushad had to spend few days behind bars as he had an argument with a medical representative and had thrown the said persons visiting card on the ground. The representative, whose first name happened to be Mohammad, went to the police and got the innocent man arrested under this law.
It is to the credit of the vibrancy of the civil society and presence of liberal voices in Pakistan that they not only opposed the judicial verdict in Aasia Bibi’s case but also demanded that the infamous law is either repealed or amended. Sherry Rehman, a former minister in the Cabinet has even moved a bill in the senate to that effect. Apart from sporadic protests and demonstrations there was a large meeting of civil society groups and political formations in December where they had planned joint actions in this month for its repeal / revision. As things stand today, these efforts to save Aasia Bibi’s life and seek repeal/revisions in the controversial law have received a tremendous setback with the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province, Pakistan, scion of the progressive intellectual/activist Dr M.O. Taseer and nephew of one of the legendary voices in this part of South Asia, Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
Salman Taseer, had felt perturbed over the judicial verdict in Aasia Bibi’s case and had even demanded that she be immediately freed. To show his solidarity with the hapless woman, he even personally went to meet her in jail with his wife and daughter and even demanded repeal of the law.
There is no denying the fact with growing belligerence of the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan, with few of the Mullahs even declaring Salman Taseer Wajib Ul Katl (worth to be killed) over his stand on the blasphemy law, few from the ruling dispensation gathered courage to support him. Despite his growing isolation within the party he refused to budge from his voice of conscience.
As already mentioned Pakistan stands at very crucial juncture in its journey. The manner in which his killer Malik Qadri was declared a ‘Gazi of Islam’ (warrior for Islam) by some fundoos or the jubilation which awaited him when he was presented in the Islamabad court, with someone from the crowd even showering rose petals on him, just goes to show growing hold of extremism in the society.
The only silver lining to the otherwise grim scenario in Pakistan is that voices of sanity, voices of tolerance, voices of reason and protest have not given up their fight; they have held candlelight marches, organised rallies in different parts of Pakistan in memory of Salman Taseer, and declared their solidarity towards the cause celibre for which he faced martyrdom.
The developments in Pakistan have been witnessed with glee by Talibans of a different kind, namely the Hindutva Supremacists in India, which have similarly tried to pursue their very own agenda of majoritarianism. As the maxim goes, reactionaries / bigots grow together, any turn towards further Talibanisation of Pakistan would further augment the strength of these fanatics here in India. We should not forget that the ascendance of these forces in India at the fag end of 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century was also the period when for the first time in Pakistan’s history fundamentalist forces gained dominant position even at electoral level in two of its states.
Question naturally arises what needs to be done in this case?
It is of utmost importance at this juncture to declare our unconditional, unflinching support to voices of sanity, voices of tolerance in Pakistan. We should not forget that after Salman Taseer’s assassination, Sherry Rehman is on their target and her life is in imminent danger.
We, at the New Socialist Initiative, sincerely feel that it may well be a very symbolic move but:
It is time to raise our voice for justice to Aasia Bibi.
It is time to demand that the infamous blasphemy law be repealed.
It is time to ask for speedy trial in the assassination of Salman Taseer and also bring to justice all those people who helped the killer Qadri.
Perhaps Martin Luther King’ exhortation to the ordinary populace in one of his famous speeches is worth quoting here :
There comes a time comes when silence is betrayal… History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
In Solidarity with progressive voices of freedom, justice and equality of Pakistan,
New Socialist Initiative, Delhi Chapter.
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