Speak to survive

“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 Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer tweeted last month. He called their bluff but had to pay a heavy price for that. On January 4, 2011, Governor Taseer was gunned down by one of the police guards assigned to ‘protect’ his life. Mumtaz Qadri fired 27 bullets at the governor and then surrendered himself to the police. Reports indicate that Qadri had shared his plan to murder Mr Taseer with some of his colleagues. He had requested them not to fire at him while he killed Taseer; a request that was honoured. Not a single shot was fired at Qadri by the security staff on duty that day with Governor Taseer. He killed the sitting governor of Punjab because Mr Taseer had said that the Blasphemy Law was a “black law”.

It all began in November 2010 when Mr Taseer paid a visit to Aasia Bibi in jail. Aasia, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death by a lower court for alleged blasphemy. She submitted a mercy petition for presidential pardon through the governor to President 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 Mr Taseer.

The Blasphemy Law is indeed a black law that has been misused for decades. Despite a death penalty as per the law, no one has been hanged in Pakistan for blasphemy but many people have been killed by religious zealots after they were accused of it. Most of these allegations are made because of property disputes, personal vendetta, rivalry, etc. Human rights activists have long been asking for this man-made law to either be repealed or at least amended to stop it from being misused. Mr Taseer too asked for the same. The mullah brigade came down hard upon Governor Punjab. Fatwas (religious edicts) were issued against him; he was declared a heretic, a blasphemer. Protests by the right-wing took place all over the country. Mr Taseer’s effigies were burned 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, Mr Taseer did not back down from his principled stance. Just because he wanted to protect the citizens of Pakistan from being persecuted because of a flawed law, Mr Taseer lost his life. He was indeed a brave man, if not the bravest of them all in Pakistan.

The brutal murder of Salmaan Taseer shocked many but what devastated us was the reaction of those Pakistanis who celebrated Taseer’s death 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 even refused to lead Taseer’s funeral prayers. This did not deter thousands of Taseer’s friends and supporters from attending his funeral; however, 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 heads-on. In Salmaan 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 sitting governor because he spoke up for the rights of the religious minorities in Pakistan. Mr Taseer’s martyrdom has also put fear in 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.

Mr 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 People’s Party (PPP) distanced itself from Governor Taseer when he took a tough stand on the Blasphemy Law but the liberals must not isolate the Taseer family now. Our state has pandered to the tunes of the right-wing for far too long. It is time to say enough. It would be a great disservice to Salmaan 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.

(Originally published in Hindustan Times)


Liaquat Ali said…
Good article. Thanks for sharing.

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