Subject to transfer
Provinces can’t benefit fully from 18th Amendment till issues like financial autonomy, capacity are resolved
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The fight between provinces and the Centre dates back to the creation of Pakistan and has led to estrangement between them. It was one of the major causes that resulted in the cessation of East Pakistan in 1971. The provinces want main role in the affairs of the state and control over resources generated there. On the other hand, the Centre has kept control of resources in its hands and refrained from handing over authority to the provinces vis-à-vis running their own affairs.

Concluding the secularism debate
We formally announce the closing of the weekly debate on secularism. Meanwhile, this remains an issue close to our hearts and we will be publishing more articles on the subject in due course.
This, as we kept stating, was a follow-up to our Special Report "Case for a secular Pakistan". Yet most of the feedback we received overstressed the need for Pakistan to be an Islamic state. We deliberately gave this view limited space because there was no point arguing for something which is firmly in place and faced no real threat from the opposing ideology. Secularism, indeed, is not the dominant discourse; we always knew that the secularists represented the minority point of view and this precisely is the reason why we provided this space.

issue
Some called-for changes
A detailed analysis of Sherry Rehman’s bill seeking amendments to blasphemy laws
By Asad Jamal
Sherry Rehman, Member of National Assembly, has through a bill proposed amendments to certain sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) along with a suggestion to introduce two new sections. These provisions prescribe punishments for Offences Relating to Religion. Her bill also includes changes to Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) regarding arrest, cognizance and trial of offences under these provisions.

"I believe the repeal option is still the best one, but…"
-- PPP MNA Sherry Rehman on pros and cons of the proposed amendments
By Alefia T. Hussain
The News on Sunday: Why amendments. Why haven’t you proposed repeal of these laws? Do you think the time for repeal has not yet come and conditions are not yet conducive?

The impure in the land of pure
Members of cast away communities are still falling prey to a centuries old cultural bigotry of untouchables
By Haroon Khalid
The Syeds, the Sheikhs, Juts and many more of such ‘high’ castes of Pakistan don’t normally permit marriages outside of their caste. The rationale behind such an approach is that consummation of such a union would result in an impure breed. Then, however, there are some people, in this land of pure, who believe that even the presence of an outsider in their vicinity would pollute their pureness.

 

 

Story within the story

If only someone from the media cared to follow up Shazia Masih’s case…

By Waqar Gillani

Shazia Masih’s case is a classic example of media apathy. The media turned it into a high-profile ‘murder’ case in January this year when it put the news of 12 or 13 year old Shazia dying in mysterious circumstances on the national television screens. In what was decidedly a one-sided coverage of the incident, public sympathies were evoked and the accused were castigated in the harshest terms possible. The accused family was booked under a murder charge.

And then the case was forgotten.

A couple of weeks back, the Additional Sessions Court acquitted Naeem advocate and his family of the charge on a single point -- that the girl, according to medical reports, was suffering from Septicemia. This was, at best, a second-page news and none found it necessary to follow it up. What was the family’s reaction? Was the case conducted satisfactorily? What about the forensic report? How is the mother and would she be interested in an appeal?

If anybody from the media had cared to follow this case up, he would be in for a rude surprise. The story of poverty is unending, with new twists and turns, and one the media would regret having missed. The presidential intervention in the case that came in the shape of five lac rupees caused a rift in the family. The husband and wife had a huge fight over it and the wife, Shazia’s mother, no longer lives with her husband. No prizes for guessing that the husband and his sons from his previous wife kept the money.

"We came to know through television channels that advocate Naeem and his family have been acquitted," says Bashir Masih, father of Shazia, who died because of alleged torture by her master’s family in one of the posh localities -- Defence Housing Authority (DHA) -- of Lahore this January.

Shazia’s parents lived in a one room house in a slum situated on the brink of a drain in Lahore’s Samanabad area. Belonging to a minority religious group, Shazia was hired by advocate Naeem Chaudhry’s family through a middleman six months before she died. She was getting Rs5,000 to 6,000 per month and stayed at her employers day and night.

According to Naeem, Shazia was already sick and they were having her treated by a doctor. A few days before she was admitted to hospital she also fell from two steps of stairs in the house, he says. However, Shazia’s family alleged that the child was tortured which led to her death and the family was informed when she died at Jinnah Hospital. President Asif Zardari announced Rs500,000 compensation to the victim family after the media picked up the issue.

Sitting on a broken wooden sofa in a dark shabby room, Shazia’s father Bashir says that his wife has left home after a dispute over the Rs500,000 compensation amount.

"We have been entertaining people here during the tragedy and the amount is my right. That is why it was deposited in my account against the demands of Nasreen, mother of Shazia, who wanted to grab the amount," Bashir, who married Nasreen after the death of his first wife, tells TNS.

Both the husband and wife had been filing police complaints against each other in order to get the money and pursuing Shazia’s murder case in court through separate counsels. "We have already spent the money by paying to counsels and now there is no money at all. That is why we are not filing appeal against Naeem’s acquittal," Bashir says, adding, "Nasreen is the main complainant in this case and she probably has also not taken up the issue properly."

"There is no medical evidence that the death of Shazia was due to violence or homicidal hence the accused persons are hereby acquitted from the charge," the judgment reads.

"Though I am free but I am still depressed because of what the media did to me and my family," Naeem tells TNS. "There was no torture on the girl. She was sick and we had been giving her medical treatment and her family was aware of it."

But there are a lot of question marks in the case. The accused have been acquitted on the basis of a medical report. "The cause of death as stated by the doctor was Septicemia which was outcome of a chronic inflammatory disease of lung. There was no apparent fatal injury seen on the body which can cause cracks," the medical report by the board constituted by the government reads.

The report, surprisingly, is contradictory to the postmortem report. "Both lungs were healthy but were having few petechial hemorrhages (bleedings)," the postmortem report says.

The postmortem report had also mentioned 18 injuries, mostly with some blunt and sharp-edged weapons. According to the post-mortem report, Shazia’s body was received in poor hygienic condition with all finger nails having fungal infections. Most of the injuries described in the postmortem report have been described reddish blue contused swelling; reddish brown abraded areas; and linear abrasions with reddish scabs and some abrasion with dark brown scab. All the incised wounds were skin deep only, the post-mortem report says.

Rashid Aziz, National Manager Legal Advisory Unit of SPARC (Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child), a national NGO, says they are also examining the case of Shazia. Aziz stresses the need to declare domestic child labour as the worst form of child labour, urging the government to bring in legislation to stop this phenomenon.

"Currently, there is no law on domestic child labour in Pakistan as compared to India which has added domestic child labour in its Children Employment Act as the worst form of child labour a few years back," he says.

Shazia may be dead but if we don’t fill in the gaps in her story, many more Shazias will die like her.

 

 

Subject to transfer

Provinces can’t benefit fully from 18th Amendment till issues like financial autonomy, capacity are resolved

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

The fight between provinces and the Centre dates back to the creation of Pakistan and has led to estrangement between them. It was one of the major causes that resulted in the cessation of East Pakistan in 1971. The provinces want main role in the affairs of the state and control over resources generated there. On the other hand, the Centre has kept control of resources in its hands and refrained from handing over authority to the provinces vis-à-vis running their own affairs.

The trend stands reversed to a great extent, following the passage of the 18th Amendment and consequently the handing over of five ministries to the provinces. The ministries included Zakat and Ushr, Population Welfare, Youth Affairs, Local Government and Rural Development and Special Initiatives.

Transfer of five more ministries is to follow shortly with the ultimate plan to hand over all the 47 subjects in the Concurrent Legislative List to the provinces. Both the provincial and federal governments could legislate in the areas mentioned in this list, but as per the previous arrangement the federal law would prevail in the end. Now, the provinces will be free to legislate on these issues and it is quite possible that laws formulated by one province may differ from those of the others.

Though the development has been celebrated at a large scale, there are concerns like lack of capacity of the provinces to run affairs of these departments, financial dependence on the Centre and chances of conflicting legislation.

Awami National Party Senator Haji Adeel says the provinces would need more control of revenues generated by them to assume their new responsibilities. He thinks they could have gotten more resources if the NFC Award had taken place after the 18th Amendment.

Adeel says amendments introduced by successive regimes have been detrimental to the culture of federalism in the country. For example, he says, Fata members of National Assembly and Senate can play their role in making national laws, but unfortunately they cannot even make their own laws. "Powers to make laws for Fata are vested in the President," he adds.

"It’s good there is an amendment in the constitution to award autonomy to the provinces. But what’s needed in practice is the political will among the stakeholders to give powers to the provinces. There are many issues, like the issue of generation and consumption, that still stand to be resolved," Adeel says.

Explaining his point, he says Sindh claims it generates maximums customs duty as most of the imported goods land at its ports. The fact the consumption of these goods is in the upcountry is always ignored, he adds. Similarly, "if a phone call generated from Karachi ends up in Peshawar theoretically both the provinces should have a share in tax revenues generated by the call."

Haji Adeel’s concern about province’s share in finances is quite pertinent against the backdrop of the 18th Amendment. A clause under the amendment says future NFC agreements cannot reduce the provinces’ share beyond that given in the previous agreement. The provinces will definitely ask for more share -- a demand which the central government is most likely to oppose.

The 47 subjects which will come under provincial control include laws governing marriage, contracts, firearms possession, labour, educational curriculums, environmental pollution, bankruptcy, divorce, adoption of children, arbitration, partnership, agency, trust and trustees, safety regulations in mines and insurance of unemployed persons.

The provinces’ ability to draft laws for themselves may, in some cases, harm the very cause for which they are meant. For example, Intazar Mahdi, a lawyer based in Lahore, takes the case of environmental pollution. He tells TNS, "Different provinces may draft different laws on environmental pollution in order to attract potential investors to set up industries within their jurisdiction. And industrialists will naturally opt for the province where these laws are lax."

Mahdi says he does not mean the provinces should not have the right to legislate on this issue. "What I want to say is there should be awareness among the provinces that they should not make laws which are harmful to the environment, even if they benefit from them financially."

The curriculum is another subject which, according to a lot of players, should not be passed on to the provinces. S.M. Zafar while talking to a state-owned agency said: "It was a mistake that was collectively committed by the Constitution Review Committee by taking out curriculum from the concurrent list… I confess that it was a big mistake and I am part of it."

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Education Chairman Abid Sher Ali tells TNS that all over the world, curriculum remains a federal subject. The purpose is to pursue a national agenda and infiltrate a sense of unity among the masses. Provinces’ control over this subject can fan hatred among people coming from different parts of the country and ethnicities. He claims, "PML-N MNA Ahsan Iqbal had even given a dissenting note when the transfer of this subject was being mulled."

Standing Committee on Education, he adds, had sought a detailed reply on the issue from the Education Ministry on December 21. "We are happy people. Different parties have backed us on this issue. The curriculum transfer move will be reversed through the 19th amendment," he adds.

Ali says he does not doubt the intentions of provinces and outrightly backs autonomy for them. "At the same time, I think the Centre’s control over curriculum formulation is a must and in no way an infringement on provinces’ rights."

 

Concluding the

secularism debate

We formally announce the closing of the weekly debate on secularism. Meanwhile, this remains an issue close to our hearts and we will be publishing more articles on the subject in due course.

This, as we kept stating, was a follow-up to our Special Report "Case for a secular Pakistan". Yet most of the feedback we received overstressed the need for Pakistan to be an Islamic state. We deliberately gave this view limited space because there was no point arguing for something which is firmly in place and faced no real threat from the opposing ideology. Secularism, indeed, is not the dominant discourse; we always knew that the secularists represented the minority point of view and this precisely is the reason why we provided this space.

The editorial rationale being that Pakistan, an Islamic state for all practical purposes, has not been able to create a just, plural and tolerant society in these 63 years. What we have instead is a sectarian society where the laws have not served the cause of justice for all Pakistanis. Hence the need to reopen the debate.

We wanted to address this fear of secularism and get nuanced opinion on the subject. To put it crudely, we wanted to question this common belief that secularism meant ladeeniat or no religion. Therefore much of what we printed on these pages was commissioned stuff.

We did manage to get a lot of analysis on what secularism actually means or how it essentially was a part of every religion but we have not been able to sufficiently address why is secularism associated with ladeeniat in people’s minds. Our sense is that this has to do with the Islamic world’s experiments with the idea in the twentieth century which, in the cases of Ataturk’s Turkey, Shah’s Iran and Nasser’s Egypt, were not the best examples of secularism. The persecution of religious forces and the extremism of these so-called secularists, more than anything else, may be responsible for the Muslims’ fear of secularism.

Just to get a drift of the kind of feedback we received from the opponents of secularism in Pakistan, Syed Burhan writes in his piece "…The Muslims must not emulate Akbar and Dara Shikoh’s attitude towards non-Muslims in their approach to the Western civilization… They must bolster their identity and thus carry the Pakistan Movement a step further by forging an alliance of Muslim countries on the pattern of Nato and EU…The liberal fringes of the Pakistani society would have to realise sooner or later that secularism simply cannot be imposed on a people whose worldview allows no bifurcation of the spirit and the matter, the sacred and the mundane; who understand Islam as a complete code of life ("Mukamal Zabtay-hayat") with a say in every field of human activity… Pakistan cannot afford further betrayal of its raison’detere. The confusion created about Pakistan’s identity at the behest of the West has led the country to the brink of destruction… The realisation of Pakistan Movement as a Pan-Islamic Movement would not only give us the ever elusive strategic depth vis-a-vis India and render separatism in Pakistan ‘sinful’ and therefore unthinkable but would also uplift the nation’s morale and cure many of its social problems…"

As said earlier, we did not want to give the dominant discourse any further space than it already has.

And there was the other view. Muhammad Azam Khan sent his feedback on Mahir Ali’s piece. It reads "…It is the State i.e. the Army that has been abetting, cajoling and wooing the religious right uninterrupted from 1958 onwards; political parties only got on the bandwagon….In fact, it would not be wrong to assume that Pakistan will become more and more Islamist and religious oriented society… in the rank and file of Pakistan Army; the lot that is now gradually taking over senior ranks are the product of ‘reverse indoctrination’ that started during Afghan war… Bangladesh’s Apex court has recently given a landmark verdict by separating state and mosque…this is not to mention the large scale shifting of business from our Holy land to that secular country. It is perhaps poetic justice; once we stole their jute to run our industries here; today our enterprises are moving there!"

We rest our case -- Ed

 

issue

Some called-for changes

A detailed analysis of Sherry Rehman’s bill seeking amendments to blasphemy laws

By Asad Jamal

Sherry Rehman, Member of National Assembly, has through a bill proposed amendments to certain sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) along with a suggestion to introduce two new sections. These provisions prescribe punishments for Offences Relating to Religion. Her bill also includes changes to Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) regarding arrest, cognizance and trial of offences under these provisions.

Proposed changes to punishments

Section 295-A was introduced in 1927 apparently after the Ghazi Ilm Din episode to provide punishment for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. The maximum punishment under section 295-A was two years’ imprisonment of either description till 1991 when it was increased to 10 years. The bill proposes it to revert it to a maximum of two years.

Similarly, punishment for the offence of defiling of the Holy Qur’an under section 295-B introduced in 1982 by General Zia, is proposed to be reduced to imprisonment up to 5 years instead of life imprisonment.

Another blasphemy law, section 295-C, introduced in 1986 provided punishment of death or life imprisonment and fine for use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). However, a Federal Shariat Court judgment in 1990 (cited as PLD 1991 FSC 10) rendered alternative sentence of imprisonment for life under 295-C inapplicable and death sentence compulsory, after the Court found alternative punishment of life imprisonment under 295-C against the injunctions of Islam. Sherry Rehman’s bill proposes imprisonment of either description for 10 years, or with fine, or both as punishment under section 295-C.

Harsh punishments introduced since General Zia’s reign have been criticised by legal experts on grounds that they seem to have increased the number of complaints and compounded the problem. A division bench of Lahore High Court expressing dissatisfaction over the use of the blasphemy laws had to implicitly acknowledge that the harsher punishments instead of remedying the mischief seemingly had led to greater incidence (P L D 2002 Lahore 587).

Moreover, compulsory death sentence has been said to be contrary to the right to life, guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan as well international human rights instruments, as it leaves no discretion with judicial authorities to deliver lesser punishments in doubtful cases or in mitigating circumstances.

Proposed changes in the wording

The second change that the bill proposes is introduction of the element of intention to sections 295-C, 298-B, 298-C by adding words maliciously, deliberately and intentionally. It may be recalled that 298-A, 298-B, and 298-C were introduced through Anti-Islamic Activities of the Qadiani Group, Lahori Group and Ahmadis (Prohibition and Punishment) Ordinance in 1984. Thus, section 295-C will read as follows:

"Whoever maliciously, deliberately and intentionally, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for 10 years, or with fine, or with both". The existing provision had rendered the offence under these sections a strict liability in which showing criminal intent seemed to have been ignored. As a result, it was easier for the courts to pronounce death sentences. The addition of words maliciously, deliberately and intentionally, takes care of this particular lapse in the existing laws.

The words used in sections 295-C and 298-A have connotations too wide and vague, making the law liable to abuse. It would therefore be appropriate that words occurring after ‘or by visible representation,’ in section 295-C PPC i.e. "or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly" be dispensed with to make the scope of the provision clearer, though only by a margin. It will further reduce chances of abuse.

Existing 298-C is worded in such wide terms that it leaves practically no room for the Ahmedis to exercise religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution as well as obligatory upon the state under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The inclusion of maliciously, deliberately and intentionally, will bring in some improvement.

Proposed new offences and their punishment

The proposed bill introduces two new offences: (a) identical punishment to the complainant for false accusations under sections 295-A, 295-B, 295-C PPC (same punishment as in these sections); Incorporation of section 203-A is intended to take care of abuse of insult laws by providing for identical punishments; however, it would be appropriate to use word same in the proposed new section 203-A instead of word similar; (b) imprisonment of either description up to seven years, or with fine, or with both for advocacy of religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination or violence. The proposed new section 298-E should be numbered as 298-D.

Some existing provisions in the PPC such as sections 153-A, 153-B, 505 and 506 do take care of some aspects of hate speech such as disturbance to inter-communal harmony, criminal intimidation, such as threats made to Aasiya Masih’s life, but not specifically the aspect of discrimination. It is common to see pamphlets and audio/video tapes/programmes being distributed and banners put up demanding from the government and inciting people to demand for the exclusion of members of certain religious communities from important positions (mostly Ahmedis). It seems the element of incitement to discrimination is intended to remedy this kind of mischief in particular.

Procedural changes

We have seen that a change introduced to CrPC (section 156-A) which made it mandatory for the investigation as regards cases under section 295-C to be carried out by a police officer not below the rank of SP has had little impact on such cases as made clear by the Aasiya Masih’s case.

The proposed bill therefore also recommends that only Court of Sessions may only take cognisance of offences falling within sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the PPC to be introduced by new section 190(3) to be incorporated in CrPC. It also recommends that such cases may only be tried by a high court. Further, the police will not be allowed to arrest persons accused under these provisions (amendments to Schedule II under CrPC).

Already, Section 196 (Prosecution of offences against the State) of CrPC bars courts from taking cognisance of offences against the state unless complaint was made by order of, or under authority from, the concerned Government. It may safely be assumed that it was done so as a requirement of public policy. After section 295-A was introduced to the PPC, an amendment to section 196 CrPC was made, which barred courts from take cognisance of offences under 295-A as well. It was only logical to have included section 295-B, 295-C and 298 and its sub-sections under scope of section 196 of CrPC by introducing amendment. This omission has caused confusion during proceedings for blasphemy cases because offences under these sections are in the same nature as 295-A. In addition to granting Court of Sessions to take cognizance of such offences, an amendment to section 196 CrPC is also required in the proposed bill.

Not many people know that these amendments are important because the blasphemy laws, in their present shape, have created serious problems for the judiciary, especially the subordinate courts. In almost each case, the courts come under such heavy pressure from the mobs outside the courtrooms that they are afraid of applying their judicial minds to the case before them.

Therefore, it is suggested in the bill that the trial court for some offences should be the high courts. Trial in high courts, it is assumed, besides minimising the impact of mob pressures, can also put the police investigation on the right track.

Another procedural amendment proposes to add sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code to the section 30 of CrPC which empowers the Provincial Government to invest any Magistrate of the First Class with power to try as a Magistrate all offences not punishable with death. This will allow a certain degree of flexibility to the government in appropriate cases where trial in the high court may not be feasible for practical reasons.

[email protected]

 

"I believe the repeal option is still the best one, but…"

-- PPP MNA Sherry Rehman on pros and cons of the proposed amendments

By Alefia T. Hussain

The News on Sunday: Why amendments. Why haven’t you proposed repeal of these laws? Do you think the time for repeal has not yet come and conditions are not yet conducive?

Sherry Rehman: My experience with repeal bills such as the hudood ordinances law that I moved in the last assembly is that there is no appetite for it in the NA and especially in the Senate. What happens then is that the bill never makes it to Standing Committee. I personally believe that the repeal option is still the best one, but the hudood amendments still give serious relief to thousands of women who are no longer every year in lock-up because of a bad law.

The blasphemy laws have been rendered even more controversial by loading its removal with disrespect for religion, which is absolutely not the case. In fact, we need wider literacy on these laws, as they misuse Islam’s name as well as the Prophet, upon him be peace, who had no tolerance at all for injustice. The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) would have fought virulently against having his name associated with either intolerance or injustice. History is replete with cases which testify to this position, and quoting one hadith against a body of dozens against does not make any tradition the foundation for law.

In Islam, as in any other system of jurisprudence, law is made on the rule, the norm, not on exceptions plucked out to deter parliament from making just laws. The current debate on these laws is unfortunately framed in polarised terms by the religious right, which sees this whole issue as an encroachment on its political veto on religious discourse on Pakistan. When we seek to reform laws that misuse Islam, they tend to stand in the way because for them it represents a dangerous trend where the once silent majority in Pakistan starts appropriating religion for progressive reform, which breaks their monopoly on religious discourse.

TNS: Critics think that your bill inserts the much needed words "Whoever maliciously, deliberately and intentionally" but ignores the equally dangerous phrases that whoever "by words….or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly…". This has the potential of being misused. Do you think there is a possibility of an improvement in the bill on this count?

SR: All laws are works in progress and can be amended by majority opinion at Committee stage, or by a simple amendment in the PPC and CrPC.

TNS: Would you like to explain the procedural improvements that your bill proposes to do? Has the experience of similar improvements in hadd cases during the Musharraf government improved the situation on ground?

SR: My bill seeks to remove the death penalty as well as reduce sentences for blasphemy, as is the case in many other countries. This is not perfect, but statistics show that lower penalties act as strong deterrents to misuse of laws for settling scores or property disputes, so we seek to remove the incentive for such crimes that have grown exponentially since General Ziaul Haq brought in the death penalty.

The second change is to do with bringing back the proof of intent and premeditation, which is always central to criminal law. This would ensure that all those accused of blasphemy will not just be tried on the basis of trumped-up evidence and complicity or paid prosecution witnesses. The accuser will have to prove that the accused blasphemed with the intention of doing so.

The third change will require all such cases to be tried at the High Courts, even though Sessions Courts may take cognizance of offences. This has been done to prevent miscarriages of justice, particularly since these courts are under higher public scrutiny.

Lastly, two changes have been made to add clauses to the PPC which penalise anyone making false accusations under Sections 295 A, 295 B, and C, while advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence has been made an offense punishable under the law.

TNS: A Criminal Law Amendment in 2004 made it mandatory for the investigation of charge under 295C to be carried out by SP rank Police officer. That procedural change does not seem to have made a visible change as shown in Aasia Masih’s case. You propose to adopt High Court as a forum of trial for some of the offences (including 295-C). Why do you think it will reduce abuse of the laws?

SR: The Higher Courts in Pakistan have a history of reversing harsh sentences under the hadd laws as well as the blasphemy laws, which is why we have had no executions under any of these. I hope this tradition of more vigilance at the High Courts will help prevent miscarriages of justice. High Courts know that the next court of appeal is the Supreme Court, where justice delivery is under serious public scrutiny.

TNS: Don’t you think a procedural amendment to the effect that only direct witnesses should be allowed to lodge an FIR should have been included in the bill?

SR: Direct witnesses too have been complicit in accusing the innocent. But by no means am I suggesting that this is a perfect law, or that further changes cannot yet be brought in it. All suggestions that serve justice are welcome.

TNS: Uncorroborated indirect and hearsay evidence has been relied upon in handing out death punishment in some cases. What changes could be introduced to the law of evidence in cases registered under any of the blasphemy laws?

SR: It may not be easy to implement, but the law must punish false accusers. The absence of such a law provides for impunity to offenders.

TNS: Does the private member’s bill have the tacit approval of the government or is it your individual initiative?

SR: All private members’ bills can be taken up by the relevant standing committees, where the government is in majority. Given that Benazir Bhutto had always spoken of providing relief to the vulnerable, especially the minorities of Pakistan, I assume it will have more than tacit approval. She had also spoken to me and Shahbaz Bhatti about reform in these laws, which is why I have done work on the subject for some time. I also very clearly hear the president directing the Minister for Minorities to look into amending these laws, and he has committed to them. The PM also said a committee should immediately look into these laws, right after the Gojra incident.

-- Interview conducted via email by TNS

 

The impure in the land of pure

Members of cast away communities are still falling prey to a centuries old cultural bigotry of untouchables

By Haroon Khalid

The Syeds, the Sheikhs, Juts and many more of such ‘high’ castes of Pakistan don’t normally permit marriages outside of their caste. The rationale behind such an approach is that consummation of such a union would result in an impure breed. Then, however, there are some people, in this land of pure, who believe that even the presence of an outsider in their vicinity would pollute their pureness.

Captain Alvin John, supervisor of the Joyland Orphanage in Model Town, which is a project of The Salvation Army, narrated to me one such incident. Around 6-7 years ago, he narrates, a Christian worker entered a mosque, which was next to the site he was working at, to quench his thirst. When a regular visiting Muslim saw that he was drinking from the taps used for ablution he castigated the man. Soon a mob gathered and the man was beaten to death, according to Captain Alvin. I cannot prove that this is a true incident, neither can I name the people involved, but neither will I deny that such an act cannot take place in the land of pure.

In the Hindu mythology there are four principle castes, Brahmins (the priests), Khatriya (the warriors), Vaish (the farmers), and Shudra (the workers). The last lot was also known as the untouchables. For some their mere presence or even a touch by their shadow meant a defiling of purity.

The case of Aasia Bibi also revolves around a similar phenomenon. By drinking water from the same glass that the Muslims used and then standing her ground, is similar to a Shudra asking for equal human rights, which by default, only, belong to the first three castes.

Majority of the Christians in Pakistan, historically, belonged to the Shudra caste. Shunned by Hindus and Muslims in the pre-partition era, they found refuge in Christianity, which reached them through philanthropist missionaries. The idea of equality found resonance with a person whose entire life was meant to be a punishment for acts that he/she committed in the previous life. However, even after conversion these people didn’t find the equality they were promised by the harbingers of the new religion.

The untouchability associated with their previous caste followed them here too. Many Muslims, of this land of pure, would never share their plates and glasses with a Pakistani Christian even today. I specify Pakistani Christian because such an act of hospitality would not be extended to a ‘Gora’ Christian.

Imran Bhatti lives in Dharampura, and as can be inferred from his name belongs to the Bhatti caste, which is of the higher echelons of caste hierarchal structure. They are a sub-caste of the Rajputs, believed to be the original Aryans. Imran Bhatti tells me that if a Christian has tea in a cup he would never use that cup, even if it is rinsed seven times. He is not an uneducated fellow from Gojra or Nankana Sahib, but a resident of Lahore, currently working as an Area Sales Manager at a local paint company, and a graduate from the Punjab University. His reason is simple, ‘we don’t share the same religion’.

Similarly, Chaudhary Ahmad, a trader from Hall Road also refuses to have food or water from the same plate or a glass which is being used by a Christian. His reason, however, is, allegedly, slightly more logical. It is because of the dirty jobs that these people do, it has nothing to do with their religion, according to Chaudhary Ahmed. He also adds that he would not shun away if that Christian was a ‘Gora’.

For the past 25 years, Sadika, a Christian woman, has been working at my home. I remember my grandmother would advise me not to have food cooked by her. However, my mother never made any such suggestions, but she made sure that the plates and glasses used by her were always different than ours. Sadika also confirms that whereas this bias against the Christians was widespread, even in cities like Lahore, today, at least, in the larger cities, such distinction has become obscure. She tells me that before having food or anything else from a dhaba they announce that they are Christians and are never turned away. When I ask her why she feels she needs to announce her religion beforehand, she retorts so that the sentiments of her Muslim brothers and sisters are not hurt.

To confirm what Sadika had told me I visited a small dhaba next to my house, called Pehlwan restaurant, run by a Pehlwan looking man, Arshad. Arshad told me that if a Christian came to have food at his restaurant he would never return him/her away. However, if the Christian informs him beforehand then he would serve them in special plates and bowls reserved for these people.

There is no doubt that the people of Pakistan have moved away from the basic principles of untouchability, as is found in Hinduism. In fact, here it has evolved into a separate phenomenon, which drives from the basic source, but manifests itself separately. The distinction between the untouchable and a touchable is no longer based on one’s caste, defined by one’s occupation, but by one’s religion. Today, a lot of pure people feel that they shouldn’t even share their plates with Hindu Brahmins, Sikhs, etc. It is interesting to note that it were originally the Hindu Brahmins who adopted this attitude against the Muslims.

Hakim Ram, a Hindu untouchable, belonging to the caste of Meghwal, from Rahimyar Khan, tells me that in his city, the Muslims no longer distinguish between a Shudra untouchable and a Brahmin untouchable. For the Brahmin, of course, both of these are untouchables. Sikhs, who were originally out of the pale of this concept, have now been included.

A student of PhD, in Punjabi language, at the Punjab University, Kalyan Singh was turned away from a restaurant in Model Town, which did not have plates for ‘them’. He also brings to my notice that the restaurants in Nankana Sahib, where he originally belongs to, have separate glasses and plates for Sikhs.

I strongly feel that Aasia Bibi has also fallen prey to this centuries old cultural bigotry, which the pure people of the land of pure have not been able to get rid of, despite changing their religion. I would like to end this piece with a line that Khem Chand, aka Shams Gill (an 80-year-old Hindu Valmiki), said, "We and Muslims were untouchables for Hindus before the creation of Pakistan. We became untouchables for the Muslims, once the Hindus left".

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