Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Abolish Blasphemy law & Protect Dalits in Pakistan

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Christian minorities in Pakistan are receiving end as anti-blasphemy law is easily used against them but a close scrutiny of it reveals that basically it is the Sweepers or Bhangi community who are being targeted in Pakistan for their faith. They face regular caste discrimination and untouchability and yet there is no mechanism to protect their interest. Pakistan must enact laws to protect its Dalits.

The notorious blasphemy law in Pakistan has hit again at the ‘Christian’ minority when a Christian man was charged with blasphemy by a Muslim mob which tried to find him went to Badami Bagh colony of Christians and burnt over 125 houses when could not find the man. It was alleged that there was an altercation between two friends on drinks who happened to be a Muslim and a Christian ultimately resulted in ransacking and dismantling of the property of the tiny Christian minority in Pakistan.

Because of the international repercussion the Pakistan government and the state government of Punjab acted fast, arrested over 130 people and distributed immediate relief to the people yet the fear of the people will not disappear with these dole out as Pakistan need to change its law on Blasphemy which is being used by fanatic Muslims against minorities particularly the Christians and Hindus. Most of the properties belonging to these communities are under the grab by the land mafia in Pakistan who are using such laws for their own benefits. In fact the Lahore incident is also being blamed on the land mafias who wanted to the Christian community to be out from the Badami Bagh area so that they can use the area for commercial purposes.

According to news reports that a mob of over 3000 people by Shafiq Ahmed, looked for the accused Savan, alias Bubby but due to their inability to find him the mob attacked his house, and also burnt the houses of 150 Christian families.  Many residents, including women and children, hastily fled to save themselves. The police registered an FIR under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (death sentence) against Savan and ensuring that he would be given into their custody to decide his fate. They also took Chaman Masih into custody.

World-over there is a growing concern over the misuse of anti-blasphemy law which has put minorities under deep stress and forced them to convert to Islam. Muslim fanatics have used it to grab land of the poor particularly of the Dalits in Pakistan.

Even the UN Human Rights Council is persistently worried about anti blasphemy laws in various countries which result in capital punishment to the accused. In most of the cases these laws are misused. In a report submitted to the Human Rights Council, Heiner Bielefeld said that Countries should repeal all laws punishing blasphemy and people who leave a faith, the United Nations’ top expert on freedom of religion said on Wednesday, thrusting himself into a debate between many in the Muslim world and the West. Legislation outlawing apostasy - the act of changing religious affiliation - and insults against religious figures could be used to violate the rights of minorities, said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. He further said,’   “States should repeal any criminal law provisions that penalise apostasy, blasphemy and proselytism, as they may prevent persons belonging to religious or belief minorities from fully enjoying their freedom of religion or belief,” he said in the report. Rights campaigners say the blasphemy law in Pakistan is widely used against religious minorities including Christians.’

In Pakistan and many other Islamic countries a non- Muslim can easily be charged with ‘hurting’ the religious sentiments of Muslims or using abusing language against Prophet Mohammad and Pakistan constitution provide death penalty for such charges. People are arrested on frivolous grounds as a bare FIR would result in arrest of the persons and sending him to the gallows.

It has to be understood that in Pakistan a majority of Christians are actually Dalits in general and predominantly the communities of Sweepers which is contemptuously called as ‘Bhangi’. And the Masihs who were attacked were basically sweepers who face untouchability and caste discrimination. They do not get jobs other than sweeping and people do not come near to them. They are completely outcastes and are considered as ‘charsis’ and ‘Bhangedis’ which gives the impression that all the people from the sweeper community are drunkard and chain smokers.

In fact ‘bhangi’ as contemptuous term is the most famous political contempt in Pakistan. Several years back a regional politician called Rehman Malik a ‘bhangi’ of Benzir Bhutto.  A protest of traders yesterday at the Karachi Press Club actually termed the chief minister as ‘Bhangi’. India had similar usage of phrase but if any one use such terminology to denigrate a community in public, he or she would face criminal charges but shockingly in Pakistan it is frequently used in daily rhetoric by politicians, activists and even creative people in their songs and soap operas.

Discrimination against the community is rampant and unattended as the interview with Asif Ghani Masih suggests which he gave to a Pakistani newspaper. Asif Ghani Masih starts his day by sweeping the dusty corridors of the Sindh Secretariat. As the day progresses, he scrubs dirty toilets and empties dustbins, tasks that are part of his day job as a sanitation worker.
In the evening, however, the 27-year-old becomes a neatly dressed student, who attends classes for a Bachelor’s degree; the tasks of the day shelved away as he scribbles notes. At school, he had often dreamt of being an engineer.

I was hoping that my education would be enough to land me a decent desk job,” says Masih, as he sits in his modest house in Old Golimar. “But when the list came out I was shocked to see myself appointed as a sanitary worker in the finance department.” His eyes fill with tears as he remembers the day. “It hurts to be called a bhangi [sanitation worker],” he adds.

At the Sindh law department, a Hindu employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing his dismissal from service, said he had completed a college degree but is suffering due to his different beliefs.

“This is what the poor and minorities get for educating themselves,” he said. “We are suffering because of our faith.” He does not plan to spend money on educating his child, as he believes that won’t help him get a decent job in the end. The sanitary worker had got the job on minority quota after he asked for help from his community’s political representatives.

“It is sad that uneducated Muslims are appointed as clerks and cannot even write their names, but we are cleaning trash.”

The linkage between blasphemy law and the Bhangi community must be understood clearly and so far none has looked into it. Actually, the violence against ‘Christian’ in Pakistan is actually violence against the Sweeper community who are completely isolated by the mainstream Pakistan society and their issues rarely raised to lime light. Hence whenever the Bhangis have come up in education and asserting themselves, such frivolous charges are raised against them for ‘defaming’ the ‘Prophet’ or desecrating Quran. The dirty fact is that Pakistani society is as criminal, racist and caste-ist as their counter parts in India and other parts of South Asia. There is no security protection for them. Their number is miniscule as total minorities in Pakistan remain less than 5% and yet Pakistani society is ‘afraid’ of them. The Bhangis are considered as dirty, drunkard, untouchable by the Pakistani elite and no constitution protection provided to them. In fact, it is quite shocking that most of the time violence against them is misleading headline meant as violence against Christian. In South Asia caste matters the most and Pakistan is no stranger to this. In fact, the way Pakistani middle classes, writers, singers use term Bhangi to denigrate others puts us to shame. Several years back a Pakistani band produced a super hit sufi song ‘ Hum Charsi Bhangi hai’ which was appreciated very much but it clearly send out a message that Bhangis despite being ‘charsi’ are the best friends and good at heart. While the messenger wanted to communicate a good message yet it stereotyped a community and strangely enough there was no protest in Pakistan against it. For me it is strange that whenever I listen to this song again and again I do find the usage of Bhangi as contemptuous and full of flaws.

It is time Pakistan government must abolish the draconian blasphemy laws as Pakistan Muslim don’t need protection of their identity. Actually, Pakistan needs to pass laws to protect the rights of Dalits and pass the laws. Denigrating God and ‘holy book’ is offensive and can send you gallows while humiliating and insulting  people based on their birth and caste identity can go scot free. Islamic societies in South Asia are rigid, feudal and caste-ist and they need to change their outlook about others. Practice of Untouchability and caste discrimination must be made blasphemous and not the denigration of so-called God that does not exist. It is time to put pressure on each of these countries where caste and untouchability exist to pass laws for the protection of human rights of the Dalits and completely prohibit inhuman practice of untouchability, manual scavenging and caste discrimination. 

No comments: