Pray for Peace Between India and Pakistan Day: Sunday, Dec 18, 2011

Image courtesy: Aman ki Asha

PRAY FOR PEACE BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN DAY, DEC 18, 2011
Sunday, December 18… Just 30 seconds of your time!

On December 18, wherever you are in the world, take out just thirty seconds to Pray for Peace Between India and Pakistan. 

See this article by Swati Sharan introducing the idea behind Pray for Peace Day

· See facebook page Pray for Peace and post your comments.
· Send feedback to the Aman ki Asha facebook page

Some expressions of support for this initiative include: Continue reading

Salute to Sanjiv Bhatt

A poem by Prof. Badri Raina in New Delhi, honouring Sanjiv Bhatt, the IPS officer (Gujarat Intelligence) “who spilled the beans on Modi, revealing how at the meeting of Feb.,27, 2002 Modi had instructed the police to let the Hindus vent their anger; you can imagine what travails he is facing, having now even written an open letter to Modi on the subject of the riots.”

Sanjiv Bhatt’s response to Badri Raina: “Thank you very much for writing to me. Your poem has truly humbled me and further strengthened my resolve to ensure that Gujarat Riots of 2002 is never repeated anywhere in this country.”

Thank you Sanjiv Bhatt. We need officers like you in Pakistan also. There are some mob violence murders disguised as ‘religious riots’ that could do with some whistle-blowing too. Here’s the poem: Continue reading

Aasiya blasphemy case: Field notes, petitions and a press release

The death sentence that a district court handed down to Aasiya Bibi, a poor Christian woman in Punjab, is not the first of its kind except that this is the first time a woman has been so sentenced (but not the first time one has been so accused). Since the ‘blasphemy law’ was promulgated, there have been many such convictions – that the higher courts have always over-turned. District courts have also shown sense: I remember a woman district judge in Karachi acquitting Chand Barkat, a bangle seller who had been accused by a rival). However, vigilante violence (cold-bloodedly orchestrated by extremist organisations) has claimed the lives of some 20 charged under this law or publicly accused of this ‘crime’. Continue reading

Support Diep; Massacre in Lahore, some thoughts & responses

Posted to my yahoogroup yesterday, with a very heavy heart:

WE MOURN. A man weeps at the death of a relative killed in the Friday attack, after a funeral in Rabwa, May 29, 2010

I signed this Petition to Stop Constant Harassment and Mental Torture of Diep Saeeda Indo Pak Peace Activist – pls read and sign also. I hope they’re going to take it to the authorities and stop this harassment of one of our most courageous, spirited and committed activists.

Meanwhile, we are reeling with the massacre of some 100 Ahmedis at two Friday congregations in Lahore. This was not an isolated incident but cold-blooded murder, conducted by trained gunmen with suicide vests. (Only one was caught alive – wonder how much he’ll be allowed to reveal).

The incidents brought together various strains that have been tearing apart Pakistan in the bloodiest way. Several recent incidents are part of this continuum, all of which claimed many innocent lives: Continue reading

‘Blasphemy laws’ – Stopping the rot

My recent article on the ‘blasphemy’ laws, slightly edited version published in Dawn, Aug 29, op-ed as  ‘A misguided mindset’ – http://tinyurl.com/lzx6ux

Karachi, Aug 26

Stopping the rot

Beena Sarwar

The introspection, debate and outrage generated a month ago by the attacks on two villages in Gojra on July 31 and Aug 1 may be out of public sight, as happened all too often in the past, but the nine people murdered and the homes and churches gutted are not out of mind. Neither is Najeeb Zafar, the young factory owner in Sheikhupura, Punjab, killed on August 4 for allegedly desecrating Quranic verses when he removed a calendar from a wall. The following day, police in Sanghar, Sindh, saved a similarly accused 60-year old woman, Akhtari Malkani by taking her in protective custody.

On the surface, these incidents were motivated by passions aroused by allegations of blasphemy or disrespect to the holy Quran. These criminal charges can be punishable by death – but this is a punishment for the state to administer, not private citizens. The real motivation remains settling scores, a pattern identified over twenty years ago when the first ‘blasphemy murder’ took place – that of the Punjabi poet and teacher Naiamat Ahmar in Faisalabad in 1992.

The pattern involves one party targeting another, alleging blasphemy while the real motives are personal enmity or economic rivalry as Zubeida Mustafa noted in a recent column. The accused tend to be poor people who have improved their lot in life, triggering jealousies. Accusations of blasphemy are used to justify the violence. Ms Mustafa also pointed to (mis) education as a factor that makes it easy, when such an allegation is levelled, to rabble-rouse a mob into violence.

The three recent cases bear out these observations. In Gojra, evidence points to a pre-meditated plan aimed at clearing out the village from the area, while the administration turned a deaf ear to the warnings and pleas of observers. A disgruntled employee accused Najeeb Zafar of disrespecting the Quran; the unarmed police sent to protect him could only watch as the mob set upon him. Akhtari Malkani had a monetary dispute with her accuser – he disappeared without registering an FIR. She says she threw a book of accounts on the floor, not the holy Quran.

Last April, there was the horrific case of Jagdish Kumar, the young Hindu factory worker in Karachi, lynched by co-workers for alleged blasphemy. The real reason appears to have been personal enmity based on Kumar’s reported association with a Muslim girl.

Such cases have been taking place since the option of life imprisonment under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (“Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet”), the ‘blasphemy law’, introduced by Gen. Ziaul Haq in 1985 was amended by default in 1992 to make death the mandatory punishment for anyone convicted under this law. Certainly, the law does not provide for these extra-judicial murders. However, it is equally true no such murder took place until death was made the mandatory punishment for 295-C convictions.

People of all faiths, including Muslims (remember the Muslim religious scholar lynched in Gujranwala, 1994?), have been accused and attacked since then. Investigations into blasphemy accusations indicate pre-meditation rather than the heat of passion. Those who commit the violence may be arrested but none has ever been punished. Even the Inquiry Commission Tribunal headed by Justice Tanvir A. Khan of the Lahore High Court examining the destruction of Christian homes and churches in Shantinagar, 1997, was quashed (the Punjab Chief Minister then too was Shahbaz Sharif; will he rise to the occasion this time?).

The public defamation of blasphemy victims is a key tactic preceding such attacks – posters and mosque loudspeakers are routinely used for this.

Naimat Ahmar was killed after posters cropped up warning people that a Christian teacher (Ahmar) was leading their children astray. A hand-written copy in Urdu that I saw at the time warned Muslims that Ahmar was misleading students, telling them that the Prophet (pbuh) ‘stole’ goats – ‘bakriyaN charaya kartey thay’. Replace ‘churaya’ (stole) with ‘charaya’ (grazed) and it’s apparent what Ahmar probably said.

A youngster from the militant outfit Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba (later changed to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) accosted Ahmar outside the Education Department in Faisalabad and knifed him to death. Investigations revealed that the murderer’s uncle wanted Ahmar’s job in the Education Department. The allegation of blasphemy alone was enough to ‘justify’ the murder. Policemen at the lockup housing the murderer, garlanded by his ASS (sic) mentors, embraced and kissed him. The ASS was, in fact, behind just about every ‘blasphemy case’ during the 1990s – the SSP, now banned, is believed to be behind the Gojra carnage as well.

Blasphemy accused are attacked and murdered even in prisons and police lock-ups, sometimes by the very people who are supposed to protect them. In 2004 a police constable attacked Samuel Masih, 27, an under-trial prisoner at Kot Lakhpat jail with a brick-cutter. Samuel had been charged with spitting at the wall of a mosque (Section 295, “defiling a place of worship with the intent of insulting the religion of any class”, maximum sentence up to two years). He succumbed to his injuries the following day. “I wanted to earn a place in heaven by killing him,” Ali reportedly confessed.

The fanatical and misguided mindset cultivated over the past few decades will not disappear by simply repealing 295-C, although this must be done. Embarking on a sensible education policy is also a long-term step that must be taken to stop the rot. What must be an immediate priority is the strict enforcement of law and order.

Those inciting violence and murder from mosque loudspeakers and public accusations, true or false, must be held culpable, charged, tried and punished according to law. This also goes for those who desecrate a holy book or symbol of any religion. There must be accountability for those who allow these murders to take place. The political leadership is responsible for providing police with the training, means and the orders to prevent such violence. Finally, religion cannot be used or allowed to justify murder.

The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker

(ends)

Gojra and education, conspiracy theorists and judicial activism

‘Gojra and education’ – Zubeida Mustafa correctly identifies economic rivalries and the education rot as the major factors at the root of what are termed ‘communal’ or ‘religious riots’ – not just in Pakistan but also in India. What is also disturbing is how very easy it is for the perpetrators of such crimes to incite people in the name of religion – Dawn oped, 12 Aug, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/zm-gojra

‘In defence of reason’ – Nadeem Farooq Paracha takes on Pakistan’s king of conspiracy theorists, Zaid Hamid (who after the Mumbai terror attacks held forth on his talk show about the ‘real’ identity of the gunmen. According to him, the red thread around the wrist of one of them proved his Hindu identity – but that he was in fact a Sikh, whose name Hamid disclosed). Dawn, Aug 11, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/nfp-reason

‘Days of judgments’, by Asma Jahangir – A warning from Pakistan’s most well known human rights activist and lawyer: ‘Musharraf’s head may roll in the streets of Pakistan on charges of treason but that could also open the doors for bigoted nationalists to put a few others in the dungeons of Pakistan on dubious charges of treason’ – The News, op-ed, Aug 12, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/knq5kv

‘Power with responsibility’ – by Haris Gazdar: The Supreme Court’s ruling on July 31 striking down some of the actions taken by former President Musharraf as unconstitutional has been hailed as historic. This is hyperbole. What is more important is how the judges and their supporters plan to use the power they are acquiring with respect to the key challenges facing the state and society. Dawn, op-ed, 06 Aug, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/mu9anv

Simply repealing 295-C will not stop the rot

Since it was introduced by Gen. Zia, the ‘blasphemy law’ 295-C has been used to settle scores, including financial rivalries, as umpteen fact-finding missions have recorded (included several I have participated in), much as the Zina laws have been used for revenge.

Now, simply repealing 295-C will not stop the rot. That must be done, but along with it we have to demand strict enforcement of law and order.

Those who incite violence and murder (eg mullahs who used loudspeakers) must be held culpable as well, charged, tried and punished in accordance with the law.

Ditto those who desecrate a holy book or symbol, no matter of what religion.

Below, links to some reports that provide a perspective on the issue:

PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS-THE VICTIMS OF HALF LAW IN GOJRA, byBrigadier Samson Simon Sharaf (Retired), Aug 5, 2009

http://chowk.com/ilogs/73055/47736

An Eyewitness Account from Gojra – Faris Kasim.  August 7, 2009

http://www.chowk.com/articles/an-eyewitness-account-from-gojra-faris-kasim.htm

Edited version in The News Op-Ed, Aug 8, 2009

http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=191978

HRCP press releases, Aug 4 & Aug 1
http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/gojra-admin-knew-about-pre-planned-attacks-hrcp/

http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/hrcp-press-release-on-gojra-and-korian-incident/

Lethal Law, Newsline Sept 2001
http://www.newsline.com.pk/NewsSept2001/newsbeat.htm

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