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Religion, Politics and Minorities in Pakistan


Religion and politics
Rubina SaigolMonday, September 21, 2009
The writer is an independent researcher specialising in social developmentIn the past few months, there has been a noticeable increase in religiously-motivated violence against minority communities, especially in Punjab. The most recent case is that of 20-year-old Robert Fanish Masih, whose mysterious death in the Sialkot district jail, where he was interned after accusations of defiling the Holy Quran, raises serious suspicions of foul play and murder. According to a press release by the Joint Action Committee, this incident is reminiscent of an earlier one in which Muhammad Yousaf, also accused of committing blasphemy, was found dead in jail and the authorities declared it to be a case of suicide.Cases of murderous attacks against Christians by frenzied mobs have risen at an alarming rate. In March, a Christian woman was killed in Gujranwala where a church was attacked. On June 30, a mob destroyed more than 50 Christian houses in Bahmaniwala in Kasur district and looted and plundered the village. And on July 30, seven people were brutally murdered in the Gojra carnage.

The typical pattern in many of these cases is an accusation (usually false) of the commission of blasphemy by a rival. This is normally followed by announcements from mosques loudspeakers inciting people who then congregate and turn upon their own neighbours and erstwhile friends. As pointed out by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the local administration and police often collude with the perpetrators or, at best, stand by and do nothing, themselves fearful of the mob. The state becomes an onlooker instead of intervening to protect its powerless citizens against the heinous crimes committed in broad daylight.

As the large number of blasphemy cases in the past have demonstrated, the real motive for instigating the crowd often has nothing to do with blasphemy. Frequently, disputes over money, property or other pecuniary matters lead to false accusations of blasphemy. An accusation of blasphemy is invariably deployed as a weapon to browbeat others into submission. In the famous case of Salamat Masih, a 14-year-old accused of writing blasphemous words on a wall, the quarrel among children started over pigeon fights. Had human rights activists like Asma Jahangir not saved his life, our state was about to send an innocent person – a child – to the gallows. The horrific implications of law cannot be overstated.

What has enabled religion to be used as a weapon to incite raw passions against fellow citizens to murder them with impunity? The immediate cause is the pernicious and widely abused blasphemy law as enunciated in Chapter XV of the Pakistan Penal Code. Sections 295 to 298 of the chapter refer to offences related to religion. Section 295 provides that, “Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.” In 1927, the British government added 295-A which reads that “whoever with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of His Majesty’s subjects, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” In 1991, the imprisonment term was extended from two to 10 years.

In 1982, at the peak of General Zia’s period, 295-B was added to include the desecration of the Holy Quran and to enhance punishment. This section reads as follows: “Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom, or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.” The Majlis-e-Shoora designed by Zia further added 295-C, which reads: “Whoever by word, 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 death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” In 1990, the Federal Shariat Court constituted by Zia hammered the last nail in the coffin of sanity and justice by declaring that Islam provides punishment for hadd which is mandatory, therefore the words “imprisonment for life” should be removed from Section 295-C. Now, the only punishment for blasphemy was death. Section 298 relates to the Ahmadiyya community and institutionalises systemic prejudice against their right to practice their faith.

Before the Federal Shariat Court provided for the mandatory death penalty, no case of blasphemy was registered under Section 295-B or 295-C. This judgment paved the way for murder and created the environment in which vigilantism was encouraged and promoted. Manzoor Masih lost his life in a wanton act of murder outside the Lahore High Court. One of the court’s judges, Justice Arif Bhatti, who overturned the conviction of Salamat and Rehmat Masih by a lower court, was murdered by the purveyors of a grotesquely distorted religion. Niamat Ahmar, a poet and teacher, was butchered in Faisalabad by activists of the Sipah-e-Sahab-e-Pakistan; Bantu Masih and Mukhtar Masih were killed in police custody by fundamentalists while the authorities looked on. In 2008, two Ahmadis were murdered when a television anchor declared their community wajib-ul-qatl (deserving to be killed).

How has the state enabled this travesty of justice, this steady descent into inhumanity? The blasphemy law is only a part of the story; the issue of religious inequality and discrimination is much deeper. The entire problem began with the Objectives Resolution of 1949 when the state began to move in the direction of a theocracy. Its passage, despite the objections of the non-Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly, became possible because Jinnah’s vision, as outlined on August 11, 1947, was overlooked. Subsequently, every Constitution of Pakistan (1956, 1962 and 1973) carried a section on Islamic provisions which mandated that all laws would be enacted in line with religion.

Religious discrimination and inequality are institutionalised within the state structure. Article 2 of the Constitution declares that Islam is the state religion and Article 2-A makes the Objectives Resolution a substantive part of the Constitution. Non-Muslim citizens cannot hold two of the highest offices of the land and Islamic provisions of the Constitution (Articles 227-230) are designed to ensure that all laws conform to the Holy Quran and Sunnah. Citizens belonging to other faiths are systemically excluded and relegated to a secondary position. The increasingly religious character of the Constitution, with General Zia’s Eighth Amendment protecting his draconian vision and measures, violates the principle of equal citizenship on which the entire edifice of democracy rests.

Every provision that reduces the citizenship status of groups of people contradicts Article 25 (1) of the fundamental rights chapter which pronounces that all citizens are equal before the law. Similarly, Article 8 (1) avers that any law, custom or usage that is inconsistent with the rights conferred by this chapter shall be null and void. It follows that all the provisions that create discrimination and inequality among citizens should be removed. As Pakistanis focus on the task of reformulating their basic law and re-imagining their state, it seems prudent to separate religion from politics, as their mixture debases both religion and politics – the former by associating it purely with the attainment of political power and militant activity, the latter by making some more equal than others. Merely repealing the blasphemy law is not sufficient; we need to transform the basic framework from which such laws flow.

Email: rubinasaigol@hotmail.com (The News)

Looking for justice —Syed Mansoor Hussain

The ultimate conundrum is that if a Christian is asked the question, do you believe that the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was a Prophet and the Quran is the word of God, the believing Christians must say no, and if they say that, under the law are they not guilty of blasphemy and have committed a capital offence

Last week I had hinted that I might write about how Muslim Americans have become discriminated pariahs in the US after 9/11. But then something at home forced me to concentrate on what is happening to minorities in Pakistan. Indeed in comparison it almost made me feel better about how we as Muslims are being treated in the US.

The Gojra carnage that has mysteriously disappeared from public perception and our news channels and newspapers is just one thing. More recently, a young Christian boy arrested for blasphemy died in jail, the ‘authorities’ insisting that it was a suicide. Sure!

And then the story broke about the case of a ‘mentally retarded’ woman who has languished in custody for thirteen years after being accused of blasphemy but was never presented in court. This woman has been officially declared as somebody probably incapable of even understanding the meaning of blasphemy and yet remained incarcerated for all this time without judicial review.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan.” That is what Jinnah said sixty-two years ago to the people of Pakistan but today the very same people who shout the loudest about Jinnah and his legacy are the ones that ignore his words.

Almost two decades ago when democracy had just returned to Pakistan after a rather egregious military dictatorship, Pakistani Americans had a series of seminars in New York City to discuss what needed to be done in Pakistan to strengthen democracy. Platitudes galore! However, one almost offhand remark about the state of minorities in Pakistan during one such ‘seminar’ remains stuck in my mind.

Somebody brought up the fact that the Pakistani flag has a white part representing minorities and therefore minorities are an important and protected part of our national heritage. But then an obviously ‘liberal’ cynic pointed out that after all Pakistanis needed some part of the flag to drive the pole through. Of course what he said sounds a lot more ‘descriptive’ in Punjabi.

As I sit here today thinking about how our minorities, especially the Christians are being treated in ‘modern’ Pakistan, that remark reverberates ever so much in my mind. However, historically the Pakistani establishment has never been kind to minorities.

The Ahmadiyya community was targeted during the agitation in 1953 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the secularist declared them non-Muslims twenty years later under religious pressure. Even the Shia have been, and still are, under threat. Fortunately for the Shia they are much too large a community and too integrated to be easily separated and targeted except in discrete areas of the country.

Perhaps some of my readers might even remember a time not too long ago when Shia doctors were being killed just because they were Shia. Interestingly, some of them were killed just because they had Shia-sounding names, so much so that Shia doctors and even some with Shia-sounding names began to leave Pakistan.

Of the minorities, most of the Sikhs left Pakistan at the time of partition as did most Hindus with a few staying behind, mostly in Sindh. During the first few decades of Pakistan, the Christian community was an important and fully integrated part of the national fabric. There was a thriving ‘Anglo’ community in Lahore that I remember well and many Christians held important positions as educators, civil servants and members of the armed forces.

But everything started to change after the “enlightened” days of Islamisation. Most, if not all, of those that could afford it among the Christians, the Ahmadis and even the Parsees left Pakistan for western countries. Sadly, of the Christians left behind the majority now belongs to the poorer classes and therefore is most vulnerable.

The recent spate of violence against the Christian community is not entirely about religious extremism and an excess of ‘Islamist’ zeal. I personally believe that after the Taliban and their supporters became isolated and unpopular due to attacks on other Muslims, they have changed tactics. Any radical organisation needs to keep its base involved and fired up and since attacks that killed other Muslims became undesirable, the Christian community has become an easy and obvious target.

Considering the political and bureaucratic indifference to these attacks, this strategy of attacking Christians seems to be paying off. It provides the Taliban types with enough ‘face time’ on TV and in newspapers and keeps their radical base involved and active. Unfortunately many in our bureaucracy, among the politicians as well as in our lower judiciary are either entirely intimidated by, or else agree with, the Islamist types and therefore do not pursue cases against them to bring them to justice.

The ‘apologists’ for the Taliban types keep repeating the mantra that Islam is a tolerant religion and as such the violence aimed at Christians or even against Muslims could not possibly be the work of real Muslims. Who then were the people that burned houses and residents in Gojra or recently blew up a hotel in Kohat? Are they not Muslims and are they not doing whatever they are doing in the name of Islam?

The ultimate conundrum is that if a Christian is asked the question, do you believe that the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was a Prophet and the Quran is the word of God, the believing Christians must say no, and if they say that, under the law are they not guilty of blasphemy and have committed a capital offence?

And that is my question to the powers that be. What is more important when it comes to the survival of the federation, the price of sugar or the legally sanctioned killing of non-Muslims just because they believe in their faith as we do in ours?

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.com (Daily Times)

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  • The unholy law
    By Mansoor Raza
    Tuesday, 19 Jan, 2010

    Pakistani Christians protest extra-judicial killings prompted by accusations of blasphemy. – File photo
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    It is widely believed that the draconian Blasphemy Law is used for the miscarriage of justice; it is exploited ruthlessly by fanatics to settle scores with rivals and by religio-political parties to gain political leverage over administrative apparatuses.

    In Jawaid Ghamdi’s book, The Penal Shariah of Islam, Ghamdi maintains that capital punishment can only be given to a person who has killed someone, or to someone who is guilty of spreading disorder in society. With reasonable certainty, during a seminar organised by People’s Resistance (PR), Islamic scholar Dr. Khalid Zaheer confirmed the notion that there is no blasphemy law in Islam.

    Despite the fact that the law has no Islamic underpinnings, successive democratically elected governments in Pakistan have proved reluctant to remove this controversial law from the books. The fact is, the law has little to do with religion, and everything to do with the changing socio-political climate in Pakistan. It is important to remember that the Blasphemy Law emerged – and endures – in a particular social context, and is thus beholden to the history of Pakistan. Here, Dawn.com contextualises the law and maps the reasons for its resilience.

    A numbers game

    The Pakistani Blasphemy Law originated from the 1860 British Penal Code, which contained a few clauses that protected the interests of diverse religious groups in undivided India. From 1984 to 2004, 5,000 cases of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan and 964 people were charged and accused of blasphemy; 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy had been killed extra-judicially. Eighty-six percent of all the cases were reported in Punjab.

    Pakistan’s minorities

    The religious minority demographic of Pakistan’s population is 3.7 per cent (an estimated six million). There are approximately 30,000 Sikhs, 20,000 Buddhists, 1,822 Parsis, and 600,000 Ahmadis (an exact estimate is difficult to obtain because of their reluctance to register as non-Muslims in the census). Other religious groups are Bhais, Kalasha, Kihals and Jains.

    Hindus and Christians are the two biggest minorities. They comprise 83 per cent of the non-Muslim population in Pakistan. Ninety-three per cent (2.4 million) of all Hindus live in Sindh and 81 per cent (2 million) of Christians live in the Punjab. Those accused of blasphemy over the years primarily hail from the following divisions of the Punjab: Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Toba Tek Singh, Jhang Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Sargodha.

    Urbanisation is providing opportunities to minorities for upward social mobility, which in turn is perpetuating awareness about individual rights and their assertion in the public spheres. For the feudal mindset, this empowerment has become a challenge and the blasphemy law is providing a way for landowners – as well as those dependent on the landowners’ good favour – to keep minority subjects in fear, and thus under control. Increasingly radicalised mullahs in rural areas are helping landowners maintain their stranglehold over minority workers.

    Divide and school

    The radicalisation of Pakistani society, which manifests as a heightened intolerance for religious minorities, has been traced back to various social developments. One of them is the mushrooming growth of madrassahs in Pakistan, a phenomenon perpetuated by the Afghan war. Historically, madrassahs were considered a particular type of educational institution and never confronted the state as an institution, though they are responsible for creating a stringently static mindset.

    Madrassahs have become important and influential; Pakistan has 16,059 high schools and 15,725 madrasahs: the total high school population stands at 1.6 million while there are an estimated 1.5 million madrassah students (though a group of researchers has claimed that madrassahs accounts for less than one per cent of enrollment). Madrassahs are in the forefront of producing a particular world view based on Alam-e-Islam (World of Islam) and Alam-e-Kufr (World of Infidels).

    The Maududi mindset

    Meanwhile, the new influence of religion in the political sphere has contributed to the persistence of the Blasphemy Law. In the twentieth century, the politicalisation of religion was mainly a reaction to the colonisation of Muslim lands by western powers. Religion played an effective motivating role for political parties seeking independence of their homeland. As politics and religion collided, Islam seeped out of the madrassahs and into modern educational institutions.

    The Maududi mindset is a product of the above-mentioned paradigm shift, and served to facilitate the entrenchment of Political Islam. It was no accident that Syed Maududi of the Jamaat-e-Islami, in a quest for a holy community and with aspirations of dominating the state apparatus, demanded an Islamic system of governance for this nascent state.

    This and other pressures exerted by Maududi and his accomplices later translated into The Objectives Resolution, the anti-Ahmadi movement of 1953, and the declaration that no non-Muslim could be the head of the state in the Constitution of Pakistan. Maududi’s legacy eventually prompted General Ziaul Haq to revive the British-era Blasphemy Law, but in a skewed fashion.

    Reality reassembled

    Pakistani society was also polarised by Gen Zia’s introduction of a separate electorate in 1985. It was another major step to reduce the status of minorities. Earlier, in the joint electorate system, the minorities still had some clout as a representative could not ignore the votes of non-Muslim constituencies. But by introducing a separate electorate, the military dictator isolated Christian voters.

    A majority of Christians, who had earlier supported mainstream parties and were aware of the larger issues facing the country, lost sight of this wider view – the Christian vote became mired in personal and religious issues. The divide was particularly evident with regards to sensitive issues like imposition of Shariah, Hudood Ordinance and the efforts for the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. Although the separate electorate law was done away with in 2002, the damage over 17 years had taken a toll and Pakistan’s Christians found themselves politically marginalised.

    Mission of hate

    The culture of Political Islam and ‘jihad’ in the 1980s also led to the widespread dissemination of anti-minority propaganda. Hate literature was constantly churned out by various religio-political groups that spat venom not only on non-Muslims, but also against other Muslim sects.

    Under the Pakistan Penal Code in 2006, the government banned 16 books, 12 weekly magazines, 9 monthlies and one daily newspaper to discourage the circulation of hate material. In 2005, the government had already banned about 133 publications. The amount of money spent by extremist organisations to produce offensive literature still runs into millions of rupees every month. Inevitably, the literature targets Shias, Ahmadis and Christians, and is freely available in the areas of operation of sectarian and ‘jihadi’ organisations.

    The defunct Sipahe-e-Sahaba Pakistan (now operating under the name of Ahle Sunnat wal-Jammat Pakistan) used to distribute more than a dozen pamphlets and booklets in which so-called ‘objectionable material’ from Shia history books was reproduced, and readers were urged to get rid of these ‘blasphemers.’ It is disappointing to note that this hate literature is popular amongst various government offices and as recently as 2005 was openly found on the tables of government officials. In the face of such official apathy, and in some cases, complicity, it is no wonder that accusations of blasphemy were frequent in the Punjab, which is home to most sectarian outfits.

    Revisiting the law in Pakistan

    The extremist organisations’ incitements to hate and violence have sadly turned into actions and reality have a direct bearing on the public’s conduct towards minorities, particularly those accused of blasphemy. A review of major blasphemy cases over the last 26 years and interviews with the accused revealed that the law is used by zealots to suppress liberals and others who think differently. Over the years, it has become evident that the Blasphemy Law singles out non-Muslims for persecution.

    Non-Muslims who offer a rebuttal to the abuse of radicalised clerics and youngsters are branded as criminals guilty of blasphemy. The judiciary, meanwhile, faces perpetual pressure from the fanatics, a pressure that jeopardises the delivery of justice.

    It has been reported that for the safety of the accused, cases have been transferred from the courts to other ‘safer’ locations. These measures have caused hardships to the accused and his/her family. Still, in many cases, the accused in a blasphemy case was killed extra-judicially because imams incite people and issue fatwas urging the public to kill the alleged blasphemer. In some cases it was also observed that the religious affiliation of the law-enforcers eclipsed their professional mandate as they became party to attacks against blasphemy accused.

    In other Muslim countries, blasphemy is dealt with under state law instead of Sharia law. For example, in Indonesia, the maximum penalty for a convict under is five years imprisonment. In 1994, Maulana Kausar Niazi, former Chairman of Islamic Ideology Council, remarked that Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law needed modification, while noted intellectual Akbar S. Ahmed stated that the law was mostly invoked to put an end to political vendettas, land disputes and political rivalry.

    At the recent PR seminar, Dr. Zaheer mentioned that even though there are several mentions of blasphemy committed by the polytheists of Makkah and hypocrites of Madinah against Islam and its Prophet (PBUH), no worldly punishment has even been hinted at in the Qur’an.

    Instead, the Qur’an urges Muslims to ignore what the blasphemers were doing, to not participate when they blaspheme, and create circumstances that do not allow blasphemy to take place. Dr. Zaheer pointed out that Muslims must apologise to non-Muslims for the unwarranted crimes in the past committed against them in the name of religion to ease tensions. He stated that Muslims should condemn, or at least not hold those individuals as their heroes, who murdered non-Muslims accused of blasphemy because they become inspirational to the youth of the community.

    If a Blasphemy Law must exist, from an Islamic point of view, Dr. Zaheer believes it must satisfy the following conditions:

    a) Capital punishment cannot be given to a person who is found guilty of committing blasphemy. According to the Qur’an, capital punishment can only be given to murderers and those who take the law into their hands. (Qur’an; 5:32)

    b) The punishment should be applicable to those found guilty of blasphemy against revered personalities, deities of all faiths and it should be equally applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims. The Qur’an says: “Don’t use abusive language against their false gods lest they should use the same language against yours in retaliation.” (Qur’an; 6:108)

    Ultimately, though, most civil society participants in the debate on the blasphemy law believe that to ensure the fundamental human rights of all citizens, irrespective of class, caste and creed, as envisaged by Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the current government needs to repeal the law without further delay.

    Mansoor Raza is a Karachi-based researcher affiliated with an international NGO, and can be reached at mansooraza@gmail.com.

    http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/02-the-unholy-law-02

  • Blasphemy laws: a fact sheet
    By Mansoor Raza
    Thursday, 15 Apr, 2010

    THE draconian blasphemy laws enacted by the Ziaul Haq regime haunt the current democratic set-up as much as they do the Christian, Ahmadi and other minority communities of Pakistan.

    Despite demands that these laws be totally repealed, the ultra-rightist lobby prevents the taking of any daring action that would attract the anger of the mullahs.

    This situation must be understood in context of the fact that the enactment and acceptance of the blasphemy laws is a result of the manner in which the state of Pakistan has evolved. Their presence in the Pakistan Penal Code is rooted in the Indian Penal Code of 1860. In 1927, Section 295(a), which aimed to prevent tension between Hindus and Muslims, was added by the British to the Indian Penal Code and was with minor changes absorbed by Pakistani law after partition.

    The contentious sections 295(b) and 295(c), introduced during the dictatorial Zia regime, aimed to protect the holy personages of Islam, the state religion. Section 295(c), which was added by an act of parliament in 1986, made it a criminal offence to use derogatory remarks with respect to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and made the crime punishable with life imprisonment or death.

    Between 1927 and 1986 there were less than 10 reported cases of blasphemy. From 1986 onwards, however, as many as 4,000 cases have been reported. Between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people, of which 50 per cent were non-Muslim, with offences under the blasphemy laws. More than 20 people have been murdered for alleged blasphemy. Two-thirds of all the cases have occurred in Punjab.

    Punjab is home to 81 per cent of the country’s Christians. The seven districts that have had the most blasphemy cases are Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala and Toba Tek Singh. The total population of these districts is 25 million, of which five per cent is Christian. Conversely, 50 per cent of Pakistan’s two million-strong Christian population lives in these seven districts, most of them in rural areas.

    According to the 1998 census, the population of religious minorities in Pakistan is around six million or 3.7 per cent of the total population. Hindus and Christians constitute 83 per cent of these religious minorities, with the former outnumbering the latter by a small margin. Most of the Hindu population — 93 per cent — lives in Sindh.

    An analysis of 361 cases of blasphemy offences registered by the police between 1986 and 2007 shows that as many as 49 per cent were registered against non-Muslims. The high rate of cases against non-Muslims should be contrasted with the fact that religious minorities comprise less than four per cent of the country’s population.

    Moreover, 26 per cent of the cases are against Ahmadis and 21 per cent against Christians, which is not in line with the ratios of these communities in terms of the total population (0.22 and 1.58 per cent respectively). In the 361 cases analysed, 761 people were nominated. And of these cases, over two-thirds were registered in Punjab, 15 per cent in Sindh and five per cent in the NWFP.

    Of 35 districts in Punjab, the police in seven districts — all in central Punjab — registered 10 or more cases between 1986 and 2007. Forty-one per cent of all cases in terms of religion were registered. Nearly 65 per cent of the cases registered were against Christians, and Muslims were nominated in 43 per cent of the cases.

    A total of 104 cases reached the higher courts between 1960 and 2007, out of which 91 cases were heard by the high courts in Pakistan and the AJK and the rest by the apex courts (Supreme Court and the Federal Sharia Court). Section 295(c) was invoked in as many as 41 cases.

    A study of the cases suggests that the blasphemy laws are invoked either when the cases have been lodged merely to settle scores, or when the issue is that of expressing one’s faith, or when the accused is known to be suffering from some sort of mental illness.

    Laws introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq that discriminate against women and non-Muslims were largely opposed by women’s rights organisations. Unfortunately, some in the Christian political leadership continued to shift positions and sometimes even came to the point of defending these laws publicly.

    The factors that paved the way for the acceptance of the blasphemy laws and their endorsement by a particular segment of society are rooted in the evolution of the state of Pakistan and its constitutional development.

    Due to the demographic changes that accompanied the partition of India in 1947, the areas that now comprise Pakistan changed from hosting a multi-religious society to a largely mono-religious one. Now, the social changes that are under way due to urbanisation are challenging the traditional class structure that, in earlier centuries, neatly defined the occupational distribution of classes and castes.

    The resulting fissures are creating tension between the groups and the warring sections are in search of ideologies to justify their struggle. The state’s religious aspirations are being used by adventurers to fight what is otherwise a war of economic aspirations.

    Traditionally, minorities found refuge in liberal politics but lately liberal parties are losing the electoral battle in the decisive constituencies of Punjab. The demography of Christians is heavily skewed in Punjab, where the PPP — having failed to comprehend the evolving new realities — is showing steady signs of involuntary withdrawal. The ascension of the PML-N will have an adverse impact on the future of minorities in the province.

    Given this balance sheet, the repeal of the blasphemy laws is possible only through mass awareness, organised campaigns and galvanising progressive religious leaders for the greater cause of the protection of humanity. The state needs to remain neutral and secular in its policies.

    The writer is a Karachi-based researcher affiliated with an international NGO.

    mansooraza@gmail.com

    http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/blasphemy-laws-a-fact-sheet-540