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In The Name Of The Father: Honour Killing And Blasphemy In South Asia

Is there any lesson for India to learn from the occurrence and fallouts of cases related to Honour Killings and Blasphemy in Pakistan?

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Honor Killing Protest in Pakistan.
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By Tania Bhattacharya

Taniya Bhattacharya
Ms. Tania Bhattacharya

There was once a girl from the rural areas of Pakistan, South Asia. At the young age of 16, she was forcibly married off by her parents. Her husband turned out to be an inebriated womanizer. She tried to live with him, producing a son, and tried to put up with his infractions. When it became too much to ignore, she would complain. He then silenced her by using brute force, punches and kicks. Unable to bear the toll her marriage was taking on her mental and physical well-being, she deserted her man and her child, and left the village. Arriving in the metropolis of Lahore, she decided to make it big in the entertainment industry. To her mind, the simplest way to achieve this was to use a pseudonym and social media as the medium of exposure. So she went on the offensive with her frequent uploads which soon went viral; dressing provocatively, gyrating and singing sensuously; recording video messages for Pakistani male celebrities; and even proposing marriage to cricketer turned
politician Imran Khan. People began to notice her. Gradually this woman, once a victim of domestic abuse, evolved into Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian. Employing a ruse as a whistleblower in one instance, she inadvertently exposed a Mufti and created a furore in the wake of the incident. But everyone watching her videos, was not a fan. There was something dark lurking beyond the pale of adulation, that she was finally able to sense and wake up to. Calling an urgent press conference one day, she begged for the media to leave her alone or to provide her with protection. They had had the temerity to fish out her passport details and her birth name and hold it up for the world to see. It was the last time the public saw her speak. Weeks later, on the 15th of July 2016, she was found dead
in the home she had bought for her parents and siblings; strangled to death in her sleep, by her own brother who had grown irate by reading the lecherous comments of her fans and thought that she had brought dishonour to her family.

Only, this is not the script of a film. It is the biography of Pakistani internet celebrity Qandeel Baloch. Now, her life has been immortalized into a television drama named ‘Baaghi’, or ‘Rebel’. Qandeel’s homicidal brother Waseem Azeem, confessed to the crime, saying that his sister’s licentious moves, had brought disrepute to their clan. The shocking incident was condemned by a number of Paki public figures who bear a liberal image among the masses. Two of these were the late human rights activist Ms. Asma Jahangir, and chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Qandeel’s tragedy is not an exception. She joins a long list of victims in Pakistan, who have paid with their lives for either dishonouring filial ties, or for committing Blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. As far as the latter goes, there have been at least two famous cases of women who were accused of blaspheming; Asia Bibi, and more recently, Rimsha Masih.

Asia Bibi, during a private conversation in a fruit orchard, seemingly made certain deprecatory comments about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Someone – in all probability one of the women participants in the said conversation – then reported her to the authorities. She was arrested for the alleged crime, that had occurred on the 14th of June 2009. Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, carries the death penalty for blasphemy. Merely being reported on the flimsiest instance of supposedly speaking ill about Muhammad, can earn someone the noose in that country.

Also Read: Pakistani Christians Not Feeling Safe After The IS Attack

In order to indict her, the prosecution from its end, had brought forth seven witnesses, two of whom were women; Mafia Bibi, and Asma Bibi. The women claimed that after they refused to drink the water Asia had brought for them – on the grounds that she was a Christian – Asia had proceeded to lampoon Islam’s prophet. As the Pakistani media has pointed out, it is not improbable, that Afia and Asma were in a dispute over potable water with the accused, and may have used the opportunity to get rid of her. In the end, following an infirmed defence, Asia Bibi was sentenced to be hanged. The year was 2010.

Rimsha Maasih, another Christian, was accused of Blasphemy at the mere age of 14. Khalid Jadoon, a Muslim cleric, had complained to law enforcement, that Rimsha had burnt pages from the Holy Quran. Rimsha, who suffers from learning disabilities, was framed by Jadoon, but even after the courts had established this, Jadoon was let off the hook, lightly, with all charges against him being dropped. Rimsha fled to Canada with her family in tow, after she was released from gaol. The year was 2012.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws are unforgiving of its minorities, who face arraignment and a death sentence upon being convicted.

Honour Killing is by no means peculiar to Pakistan. It is a pan Afro-Asian epidemic, that affects women and girls who are defenceless. Sometimes, powerless men become victims too, if the perpetrators are wealthy, and connected, as India witnessed in the case of Nitish Katara’s murder. In Jordan, the parliament has long been trying to pass laws to counterbalance its record of the honour killing of girls. In the African continent, the practice is rampant, as it is in India, where caste concerns and family dictates tend to govern the lives of couples who wish to turn their relationships into a lifelong commitment.

Also Read: How Honorable is Honor Killing?

However, even if honour killing is not restricted to Pakistan, Blasphemy is the most pronounced there, out of the entire swathe of the Indian sub-continent, which includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. For the committing of blasphemy, the necessary requirement is of a religion that has a founding father, whose words are written in stone. Islam is not the only religion with a founding father. So are Judaism and Christianity. However, blaspheming does not appear to scar societies with a majority Christian or Jewish population. The reason is not these religions, but the watering down of their original ethics at the hands of the European Enlightenment and the Renaissance. Islam on the other hand, did not experience any internal change on the scale of the two, and continues to remain unrepentant of its Blasphemy pogroms.

Nor is this to say, that there are no freethinkers within the Paki establishment and larger society who condemn the Blasphemy Law and are highly critical of it. Prominent humanist the late Salman Taseer, who was a long time beau of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and the father of their son, the author Aatish Taseer, was gunned down outside his home, due to his defence of Asia Bibi, against the court’s verdict. He had been appealing for mercy on Asia’s behalf.

As case after case has revealed, inflicting a prison term or a death sentence on unsuspecting members of Pakistan’s minorities, coupled with instances where the opportunity is used for settling personal scores, have become the hallmark of the implementation of its Blasphemy Law.

Perhaps the most infamous instance of this law being in flagrant violation of basic human rights, is in the case of Mashal Khan. Mashal Khan was a medical student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. He had been a journalist previously and had spend many years working and studying in Russia. Mashal had Leftist leanings, and took great pains to describe himself as a Humanist, above everything else. His twitter and facebook accounts, frequently dropped bombs about how the Pakistani military establishment was responsible for mind control and collateral damage and how its propaganda tactics were causing more harm to its people than good. Mashal has spoken on several occasions, about the persecution of the minorities of his country, with special focus on its Hindus. Time and again, he had advocated that his country’s problems were its own, and that it was a fruitless exercise to pin the blame on
India and its Hindus.

Also Read: Christian Blasphemy Suspect in Pakistan Jumps from Building to Escape Torture

It is not difficult to surmise as to why he was targeted for assassination. On the fateful day of the 13th of April 2017, a large group of students from the Abdul Wali Khan University who were Mashal’s own peers, attacked him furiously inside the campus. He was lynched and shot at, being left mortally wounded. When the ambulance was called, it was already too late. Mashal’s mother later recounted, that when she kissed his hand for the last time before his burial, she found that even the bones of his fingers, were broken.

Just as there are regressive forces within Pakistan that are preventing the nation from thinking along humanist lines by riding on the coattails of its Blasphemy Laws and its ethics over Honour Killing, there is also a handful of right-minded activists, students, and leaders there, who are straining to make themselves heard. One of them had been the late Mashal.

Is there any lesson for India to learn from the occurrence and fallouts of cases related to Honour Killings and Blasphemy in Pakistan?

Let us not emulate. Blasphemy will never be a popular idea among the majority Hindus of this country, since Hinduism does not have a founding father, the religion being a conglomeration of branches of varying lengths and sizes. But freethinkers have faced the heat in recent times in this country. The murder of a Gauri Lankesh, a Narendra Dabholkar, or an M.M. Kalburgi, are proof enough, that sections of Hindus are no longer tolerant of dissent.

This is tragic. Hinduism’s many schools of philosophy, include one that deals exclusively with Atheism. Known as the Charvaka reservoir of critical analysis, this system of beliefs relies entirely on rationalism and empirical evaluation.

One can only hope, that Charvaka’s unhindered existence in the millennia of Hinduism’s history, will
prove a point to Hindus, and prevent them from going Pakistan’s way, in the realm of Blasphemy.

Tania is a freelance writer with a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies who has a wide range of interests.

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The Other Side of “Hindu Pakistan”

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province

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The-Other-Side-of-“Hindu-Pakistan”
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Sagarneel Sinha

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country. BJP didn’t let the opportunity go by launching a scathing attack on Tharoor and his party for insulting Hindus and Indian democracy, forcing the Congress party to distance itself from its own MP’s comment. Only one year is left for the next general elections and in a politically polarised environment such comments serve as masala for political battles where perception is an important factor among the electorates.

Actually, Tharoor, through his statement, is trying to convey that “India may become a
fundamentalist state just like its neighbour — Pakistan”. Tharoor is a shrewd politician and his remarks are mainly for political gains. The comments refer to our neighbour going to polls on 25 th of this month which has a long history of ignoring minorities where the state institutions serve as a tool for glorifying the religious majority bloc and ridiculing the minorities. This compelled me to ponder about the participation of the Hindus — the largest minority bloc of the country, in the upcoming polls.

There are total 37 reserved seats for minorities in Pakistan — 10 in the National Assembly
(Lower House), 4 in the Senate (Upper House) and 23 in various state legislatures — 9 in the Sindh assembly, 8 in Punjab and 3 each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistani Hindus, like other minorities have the dual voting rights in principle. But the reality is they have no rights to vote for their own representatives as the seats are reserved — means the distribution of these seats are at the discretion of parties’ leadership. Practically speaking, these reserved seats are meant for political parties not for minorities. In case of general seats, it is almost impossible for a Hindu candidate to win until and unless supported by the mainstream parties of the country. The bitter truth is — the mainstream parties have always ignored the Hindus by hesitating to field them from general seats. In 2013, only one Hindu candidate — Mahesh Kumar from the Tharparkar district won from a general seat, also became the only minority candidate to make it to the National Assembly from a general seat. This time too, he is nominated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — a major centre-left party of Pakistan. However, there are no other Hindu candidates for a general seat from the two other significant centre-right parties — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI). Although, there is a Hindu candidate named Sanjay Berwani from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — a Karachi (capital of Sindh province) based secular centrist party of Pakistan.

Shashi_tharoor
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is
elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country.

The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures. It means that despite the state’s hostile policies, Hindus have been able to remain stable in a highly Islamist polarised society. 90% of the Hindu population of the country lives in the Sindh province. Hindu population in Umerkot,Tharparkar and Mirpur Khas districts of the Sindh province stands at 49%, 46% and 33% respectively — making them the only three substantial Hindu districts of the country. The three districts have 5 National Assembly and 13 Provincial seats. However, Hindus have never well represented from these seats.

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province. Many of them belong to the Schedule caste — the Dalit community. A recent report based on Pakistan Election Commission’s data says that out of 2.5 lakh women of Tharparkar district, around 2 lakh of them are not included in the electoral list — means that they are not entitled to vote for the upcoming general elections. All over the country, there are about 1.21 crore women voters who will not be able to vote in the elections. The reason is the lack of an identity card. Most of them are poor who are unable to pay the expenses required for an identity card. This has made difficult for independent Hindu Dalit candidates like Sunita Parmar and Tulsi Balani as most of their supporters will not be voting in the upcoming polls. In Tharparkar district, around 33% percent are the Hindu Dalits — brushed aside by the mainstream parties. The reserved seat candidates are based on party nominations, where mainly the upper caste Hindus are preferred. Radha Bheel, a first time contestant and the chairperson of Dalit Suhaag Tehreek (DST), a Dalit organisation, says that the fight is for the rights of the lower socio-economic class and scheduled castes. Sunita, Tulsi, Radha and the other independent Hindu candidates know
that the possibility of winning from the general seats is bleak but for them the contest is for their own identity — an identity never recognised by the political parties and the establishment of Pakistan.