“The objection, in which is urged the injustice of making the innocent suffer with the guilty, is an objection not only against society, but against the possibility of society. All societies, great and small, subsist upon this condition.”—Boswell, Life of Johnson
It didn’t come as a shock when Salman Taseer the governor of the Punjab province was assassinated by one of his own security guards on January 4, 2011. What was truly shocking were the bouquets offered to Taseer’s assassin from the so-called “true” believers—the sheer inhumanity of it and the disrespect to a man’s life! Salman Taseer’s “guilt” was clear to the assassin. Taseer may not have committed blasphemy but he was “guilty” of defending the Christian Asia Bibi who allegedly did so. The evidence against her is so blatantly cooked up that you would laugh if only you did not know that the joke would be such a cruel one.
The Blasphemy law in Pakistan is one of the laws that is more about politics than religion and used by those who have power against those who do not. The worst blasphemers are those running the government in Pakistan and using the resources of the nation for their private ends while the people live in misery and hopelessness. What is terrible is the destruction of Pakistan as a society. What kind of a society it is where people congratulate an assassin who has just killed a man in cold blood!
It does not end with that. A nation that persecutes one single innocent is a nation that is on the road to moral suicide. That’s what Pakistan has done to itself when Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who happened to be a Catholic, was murdered by the Taliban. Again, it’s the dreaded Blasphemy law that is a source of angst to the existentially bored Taliban fanatics. It’s not just the Taliban but the entire nation that needs to bow its head in shame.
In a slightly different context, I’m convinced that the special court in Gujarat, India, that gave the death sentence to 11 of the accused and life imprisonment to 20 others in the Godhra train burning case (2002) was seriously going against evidence and what the UC Banerjee Commission successfully presented with regard to the practical impossibility of throwing 60 liters of petrol into a moving train. While looking at this gruesome, dangerously delayed judgment you cannot forget that there were 63 others, including a so-called key accused, that had spent nine years in jail. The humanity of a person and the justness on which societies exist are tested in these things.
Defending the maxim “better that 10 guilty should escape, than one innocent .person suffer” Samuel Johnson insisted that “that unless civil institutions ensure protection to the innocent, all the confidence which mankind should have in them would be lost.” Among societies where the poor and the minorities have lost confidence, I’m certain Pakistan stands the first among nations. Cruel individuals and societies have a great degree of tolerance for cruel and inhumane laws that they can manipulate with ease. The infamous Blasphemy law falls in that category. Those men and women with a conscience must know the difference between ignorance that can be cured though education and a disease called ignorance that can destroy societies faster than the plague.
Thomas Paine in Rights of Man (1791) said that “man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant. The mind, in discovering truth, acts in the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same condition it was in before it saw it.” Pakistan as a society needs to come out of that dark night of utter ignorance where religious fanatics have turned fanaticism into a virtue and believers are competing with one another to demonstrate the hypocrisy that they confuse with faith. The very possibility of a society rests on the protection of innocents. Where such a protection is not given that society is doomed to perish. It is only a matter of time before that happens to Pakistan.
Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently working as an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.