On April 13, a mob at Mardan University tortured two students one of whom was lynched to death over rumors of blasphemy allegations. The incident happened just days after we came to know that the family of slain qawwal Amjad Fareed Sabri was desperate to leave the country. They fear retaliation from members of a TTP-affiliated LeJ group following the arrest of two men associated with this banned outfit in connection with Sabri's murder. Those having insight into sectarian militancy in Pakistan won't doubt the gravity of the fear expressed by the aggrieved family. The incident in Mardan University is a thumping testament to the manner in which vigilantes and mobs effortlessly hound, torture, and kill vulnerable people.
Lest we forget, Amjad Sabri was murdered after sectarian militants dubbed him a blasphemer, and took upon themselves the 'holy duty' of killing him. Unfortunately, they succeeded in their designs. The Sabri family's plan to leave their homeland isn't an exceptional move. Innumerable people ranging from religious and sectarian minorities to political dissidents to enlightened intellectuals have had to leave Pakistan in extreme duress.
The lackluster attitude of the state reflects in the police and district administrations' approach to these cases. They are found routinely advising the vulnerable individual, family, and community to leave their abode. An oft-repeated excuse is that law enforcement agencies (LEAs) cannot maintain a continued presence in neighbourhoods for the protection of such individuals. What's almost always missing is the impetus for proactive action to nab masterminds of sectarian hatred, arrest peddlers of takfiri fatwas (edits that proclaim someone to be a blasphemer or an apostate), curb misuse of the mosque pulpit for raising blasphemy allegations on mere hearsay, and follow provisions of criminal procedure codes without any pressure. In fact, if this proactive approach is adopted in the first place, LEAs will not have to worry about maintaining their protective presence for those vulnerable to sectarian and religious persecution. Nor will vulnerable individuals and communities have to run for their life.
We don't see migration of minorities from Pakistan for economic reasons. Instead, it mostly takes place because of religious, sectarian, and political reasons. For example, an MPA of Sindh Assembly, Ram Singh Sodho, who is an upper caste Hindu, had no economic reasons to flee along with his family to India.
In 2014, Pakistan's Parliament was told that as many as 5,000 Hindus were migrating every year. In the same year, an Economist report quoted the UNHCR that the number of asylum seekers from Pakistan to Sri Lanka, mainly Christians and Ahmadis, increased 14 times from 102 in 2012 to almost 1,500 in 2013. This increase was so explosive and embarrassing that the government of Pakistan was reported to have requested Sri Lankan government to withdraw visa-on-arrival facility for Pakistanis.
Hindus, Christians, and some other religious minorities have a long history of suffering rights violations and persecution. In the last two and a half decades, the Shia community has also suffered violence at the hands of sectarian militants - what's new is the over-zealous slapping of blasphemy charges and the rise of vigilantes and mob rule to perpetrate violence, following just a hearsay. In the last few years, in addition to Sufi Qawwal Sabri, we saw a famous Sunni evangelist dubbed as blasphemer. He had to leave the country but when he returned he was attacked. Numerous lawyers who represented the accused in the blasphemy cases were harassed and attacked, and some were killed for standing in these cases. A serving governor of Punjab was assassinated just for seeking procedural improvements in the way blasphemy law was implemented as well as for seeking clemency for a woman accused of blasphemy.
In 1948, our erstwhile prime minister, Huseyn S. Suharwardi, had warned us against religious bigotry with remarkable prescience in these words: "those lawless elements that may be turned today against non-Muslims will be turned, later on, once those fratricidal tendencies have been aroused, against the Muslim gentry. I want you to be warned in time if you think you will get away with it."
These lawless elements in the guise of religious enthusiasts have managed to almost rout out, terrify, and kill the more prominent signs of religious and cultural diversity in the country. They now have started turning on to orthodox Muslims. We take immense pride in Islam being the religion of peace but sectarian and religious hatred spread by a minority of clergy poses an extraordinary challenge to the dignity of Islam and peace in Pakistan. It is the fundamental duty of the government, enlightened scholars, and jurists to sit together and pave the way for legal, political and social codes of conduct against the chaos and anarchy unleashed in the name of religion.
The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He is accessible at Zulfirao@yahoo.com