It was a sigh of relief for me up to some extent as I read the news that Rimsha Mashi has been granted bail after being prisoned for more than two weeks. Fourteen year old Christian girl was accused of Blasphemy in Pakistan. She was sent to an unknown location with her family in a helicopter from the Jail in Rawalpindi near the capital city Islamabad.
Though my flight to USA was on 15th of June, 2012 but some unknown fears have already contracted me many months ago. These fears were all about a whole new life for one year in USA. There were many things on my mind. I was telling myself that I’m going to this venture as a representative of my country Pakistan. I knew that due to several reasons like terrorism, political instability, economic crunch, corruption and poverty, my country is not well reputed. I thought I will change this mindset up to some extent. I will tell Americans and my other fellows from all over the world that Pakistan is also a land of beautiful, talented, peaceful and hospitable people. I’m working on this agenda since the day I have arrived here.
How proudly I presented my green and white flag in front of my other fellows at Cronkite School of journalism during my orientation period I told them that the white color represents the minorities and their rights in Pakistan. Till then I had no idea what other fear was waiting to overwhelm me in next few days. On August 16 I came across the news from my country which stunned me for a while. It wasn’t anything new to me but this time the scenario was different. I was sitting abroad telling people that how good majority Pakistanis are and this news made a chaos in my mind with different questions and thoughts. The news was about a young Christian girl Rimsha Masih accused of blasphemy. She was caught by some local people of her area near the capital city Islamabad, with some burnt pages of the holy book Quran. From there I started following that news. Early reports said that she is eleven years old and is suffering with downs syndrome. She was sent to jail and this was really shocking for me. Court ordered her medical examination to see if she is good enough to be kept at juvenile jail or shall she be sent to an adult jail. Respected court also wanted to know if she is really suffering from learning disability or just pretending to save herself. Rimsha was kept in jail for more than two weeks. Her medical report said that she is 14 years of age and her brain capacity is less than that. Rimsha’s case brought distress to her family and community in the vicinity they were living in. They all evacuated the area because they knew that agitation amongst the fundamental Muslims around will put them in real trouble or may be death. As the case proceeded the investigation team detained a local cleric on suspicion of planting false evidence to stir resentment against Christians by adding papers from Quran in the burned pages. Rimsha’s case is not the first one there had been many cases of the same kind occurring time and again. Few months ago an agitated mob set a Christian man on fire for the same reason.
In Pakistan, according to the law the accused of blasphemy will be served with fine in form of money, lifetime imprisonment or be sentenced to death for desecrating holy Quran or talking bad against the last prophet. This law has always been controversial not only inside Pakistan but in the international world too. Despite international condemnation, the blasphemy law still enjoys widespread support among ordinary Pakistanis. No one wants to talk about its reforms. People do want this law to be amended but they fear that they will also be charged as blasphemer so they keep their silence. Even media doesn’t talk about it much. And Government is also helpless ad scared of the public
Two of the high rank government officials tried to suggest amendments to this law in Pakistan but then death was their fate. Shehbaz Bhati federal minister for minority affairs raised his voice for Asia bibi who was charged with blasphemy was sentenced to death. When Shehbaz tried to speak for her release or forgiveness he got shot. Then for the same case Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer suggested reforms to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan and one of the guards on duty for his protection shot him dead. I covered his funeral as a reporter and I still remember that nobody was ready to offer his funeral prayer by considering him a blasphemer. The person who offered his funeral prayer renewed his faith afterwards.
For last few years number of such cases has increased rapidly. According to a Pakistani think-tank The Centre for Research and Security Studies, since 1987, there have been almost 250 blasphemy cases and 52 people had been killed after being accused of blasphemy since 1990.
As a reporter I know in many cases the court released the accused without letting media or any other person know about it because the honorable court found them not guilty. But some of the fundamentalists do not spare the allegedly accused. It has been seen that many of the cases re fake and people put such allegation on the basis of their personal enmity.
I think we all are Blasphemer at some point of time; the person who goes to police station to register a fake case of blasphemy is himself a blasphemer. The news hawker is also one of them because he throws the paper inside house and it drops on the ground; many times there are verses or holy names written in there and so on and so forth.
I am a Muslim too and take my religion very seriously but I know that it is nowhere written in the holy book to kill human beings no matter what their beliefs are then why this man made law become so important? It is because of lack of education and lack of understanding of the holy book may be. So called ullemaas misinterpret Islam and the book to radicalize illiterate people. While writing this blog I could my mind is echoing that what people will ask me about this particular case and if they won’t ask me directly then what would they be thinking about me or my country. I’m happy that Rimsha has been bailed out but now the next thing pinching my mind after her release is that how long is she going to survive or in other word would our security forces be able to protect her life forever from the fundamentalist?