Speak to survive
With the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, will Pakistan’s liberal voices be frightened into silence? Mehmal Sarfraz dearly hopes not.india Updated: Jun 05, 2011 17:18 IST
‘Covered in the righteous cloak of religion and even a puny dwarf imagines himself a monster. Important to face. And call their bluff,’ is what the late Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, tweeted last month. He called their ‘bluff’ but had to pay a very heavy price for doing so. On January 4, Taseer was gunned down by a police guard, Mumtaz Qadri, assigned to ‘protect’ his life. Qadri fired 27 bullets at the sitting governor and then surrendered himself to the police. Reports indicate that Qadri had shared his plan to murder Taseer with some of his colleagues. He had even requested them not to fire at him while he assassinated Taseer; a request that was honoured. Not a single shot was fired at Qadri by the other security guards on duty that day. Qadri killed Taseer because the governor had said that the blasphemy law was a “black law”.
It all began in November 2010 when Taseer visited Aasia Bibi in jail. Aasia, a Christian, was sentenced to death by a lower court for alleged blasphemy. She submitted a mercy petition for pardon through the governor to President Asif Ali Zardari. “She is a helpless Christian woman. She cannot legally defend herself because she does not
have the resources. Implicating helpless minorities in such cases amounts to ridiculing the constitution of Pakistan,” said Taseer.
The blasphemy law is indeed a black law and has been misused for decades. Despite a provision for death penalty in the law, no one has ever been hanged in Pakistan for blasphemy. But many people have been killed by religious zealots after they were accused of blasphemy. Most of these allegations are made because of property disputes, personal vendetta or rivalry. Human rights activists have long been asking for this law to be either repealed or at least amended to stop it from being misused. Taseer too asked for the same. For this, the mullah brigade came down hard upon the governor. Fatwas were issued against him; he was declared a heretic, a blasphemer. Protests by the right-wing took place all over the country. Taseer’s effigies were burnt and he was adjudged wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of murder).
Such was the madness that even money was offered to anyone who killed him. Despite all this, Taseer did not back down from his principled stance. Taseer lost his life because he wanted to protect the citizens from being persecuted because of a flawed law. He was indeed a brave man, if not the bravest of them all in Pakistan.
The brutal murder of Taseer shocked many but what devastated us was the reaction of those Pakistanis who celebrated and glorified his murderer. The fact that millions of people condoned and justified the murder is not just unacceptable but downright disgusting. To add insult to injury, hundreds of mullahs declared that no ‘Muslim’ should express grief over Taseer’s murder or take part in his funeral prayers. The Imam of Badshahi Mosque in Lahore even refused to lead Taseer’s funeral prayers. However, this did not deter thousands of Taseer’s friends and supporters from attending his funeral; and, it did make many conclude that religion is indeed “an opiate of the masses”. Weep Pakistan, weep… for we have lost a man who was not afraid to voice his opinion and always took the bigots head on. In Taseer’s death, we have lost our sanity.
A country that came into being on the premise that the rights of the Muslim ‘minority’ could not be safeguarded in a united India was unable to protect the life of a governor because he spoke up for the rights of the religious minorities in Pakistan. Taseer’s martyrdom has also put fear into the hearts of many liberals. They wonder if they will ever be able to speak their minds freely or advocate the rights of minorities without fear of reprisal from the religious fanatics. Seemingly, the doors to any religious debate have been closed as well.
Taseer’s death will be the toughest test for the secular, progressive and liberal voices in Pakistan. If they cow down now, they will never be able to stand up again. Shehryar Taseer, son of the slain governor, vowed to be strong and not let his father’s sacrifice go in vain. The Pakistan Peoples Party distanced itself from Taseer when he took a tough stand on the blasphemy law but the liberals must not isolate the Taseer family. Our State has pandered to the tunes of the right-wing for far too long.
It is time to say enough is enough. It would be a great
disservice to Taseer if we are frightened into silence now. We the liberals are a minority but we must not hand over our country to the fanatics on a silver platter. The battle is tough. We have to win it; if not for ourselves, then for our future generations.
(Mehmal Sarfraz is op-ed editor Daily Times)
*The views expressed by the author are personal