Akhlaq, Pelhu and Mashal Khan : victims of Blasphemy, Cow Protection

We may be a democracy but it is being controlled by the religious rights who wish to convert it into a theocracy. Minorities and dissenters under intimidation and deep stress in South Asia...

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
हाइलाइट्स
  • We may be a democracy but it is being controlled by the religious rights who wish to convert it into a theocracy.
  • Minorities and dissenters under intimidation and deep stress in South Asia

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

‘If you are black or you are brown or you are gay or you are lesbian or you are Trans or you are Introvert , Anyone that is treating you unkindly , It's only because they are afraid or they have been taught to be afraid of how important you are. Because being different means you make a difference. so f*** em, Facebook Post of Mashal Khan on March 6th.

‘What you wish to ignite in others,

...must first burn within yourself’

Aurelkus Augustinus, a quote from Mashal Khan’s post on Facebook.

Hide History and Hate Hindus. This is what we are taught in Schools, a tweet by Mashal Khan

It was April 13th when a group of students at the Abdul Wali Khan University of Mardan, in Pakistan had come to the department of journalism, looking for two students Mashal Khan and Abdullah for committing blasphemy against Islam. The teacher Prof Ziaullah tried to protect his students but failed in front of the surging crowd which was baying for the blood of the two. Despite police and administration, Mashal was allowed to die in the savagery that was unleashed by the religious thugs masquerading as students. Rather than taking action against the criminal goons, the university administration ordered in very dubious way, investigation into the blasphemy charges against Mashal, literally after his death. It shows how the university administration remain shameless and spineless to the religious goons who lynched Mashal Khan in full public view without bothering of what will happen to them. We know at the end unless there is a pressure the things would not move much as they won’t find enough witness to the event. According to Prof Ziaullah,

‘Mashal was a humanist; he was into socialism and Sufism. He would often discuss Sufism with me,” remarked the teacher. “I never saw Mashal without a book in his hand.” He was well-versed in different languages and striking a conversation with him always proved to be fruitful. Ziaullah also said Mashal was his student, friend and son.

"Mashal was a ‘diya’ [lamp]. If all the lamps are put out then the nation will continue to live in darkness,” he said. “Mashal’s killing was politically motivated.

I was stunned to watch the very hearty conversation at Geo news channel of Pakistan with Prof Ziaullah, who stood by his student and despite all the threat and pressure on his life decided to resign from the university against the shocking and disturbing behavior of his own colleagues and administration. A video has now come out where the students celebrated killing of Mashal Khan and shouted religious slogans.

What was Mashal Khan’s fault ? He did not defame Islam nor did he spoke against Quran. His only fault was that he spoke against hatred which was being perpetuated in the name of Islam. He spoke for women for the courage they were facing the issues in Pakistan. He was talking of humanism where human lives were more important than religious texts. It is as simple as we ask what was the fault of Akhlaq or Pehlu Khan who were killed without any reason on the basis of rumours spread by those who seems to think the sole custodian of religion as well as our nation.

There are protests in Pakistan and many people have spoken against it. Having faced it for over 35 years, it is time for them to stand and speak up this religious terrorism against its own people. We saw some politicians speaking against it but unfortunately leaders at the highest level remain quiet like ours. This reflects that we follow each others very well and are not keen to learn from our failures.

Pakistan’s notorious Blasphemy Law clause 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code clause was amended on July 10th, 1986 under Zia-ul- Haq regime. The new 295-C – Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet included life imprisonment or death penalty for all those who insult Prophet :

Whoever by words, 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.

Asian Human Rights Commission ( AHRC)  Report on Blasphemy law in 2013 says :

The known blasphemy cases in Pakistan show that from 1953 to July 2012, there were 434 offenders of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and among them were, 258 Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis, and 4 Hindus.

The report mentions that since 1990, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered, for being implicated in blasphemy charges. Among these were 25 Muslims, 15 Christians, five Ahmadis, one Buddhist and one Hindu.

According to Dawn, around 1274 persons have been charged under blasphemy laws in Pakistan since 1986. The problem is not that the people who are dissenters or minorities are being charged under the blasphemy law but this law is an easy excuse for the thugs in the name of Islam in Pakistan to intimidate, humiliate and exploit the minorities like Ahmedias, Christians, Shias and Hindus in the name of insulting Islam. One of the common things that we hear about is the rumor about ‘insulting’ Prophet or Quran or Allah’ and then you will find numerous propagators who spread hatred on street and TV channels. The political parties in Pakistan speak for ‘misuse’ of blasphemy law but none of them has come out openly for a complete abolition of this barbaric law which should not be allowed in any democratic society.

Many of the secular democratic friends from Pakistan were always proud that India has that democratic space where dissent was allowed. But the trends here are no great than Pakistan. In fact, it look, Hindus and Muslims, India and Pakistan, seems to be quick learner from each other faults and mistakes and they use each other’s faults and mistakes to instigate the crazy and illiterate rustic masses. The opium of religion is being deeply injected by the growing army of the Babas and Maulvis in our regions threatening the very edifice of democracy. We may be a democracy but it is being controlled by the religious rights who wish to convert it into a theocracy.

In the past three years, we have been hearing the Cow Protection laws and a new breed of Gaubhakts ready to lynch individuals in the name of cow smuggling and cow killing. Now the cow team has been extended to buffaloes too.

Now Gujarat has amended the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act of 1954 extending maximum punishment for cow slaughter from 7 years to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs five lakh on the convicted person.  According to India-Spend, India’s data journalism initiative, more than 99% of Indian population is now covered under the Cow Protection laws where state after state are competing with each other to make them much severe and harsher. It is a cognizable offence and in more than half of Indian state which have banned cow slaughter, it is non-bailable offence.

After the BJP lead NDA came to power in India in May 2014, the Cow campaign has gained a new height. Now the cow campaigners are not just interested in complaining to the government or seeking stringent laws but they have themselves become the vigilante and had no shame or fear of law in lynching and killing innocent. While the laws existed in India it is the current dispensation where the cowbhakts behaving very much similar to the Islamic zealots seeking Sharia laws in Pakistan during the Zia-ul-Haq regime and taking law unto their hands.

The brutal killing of Pehlu Khan, a 55 years old, dairy man hailing from Nuh, in Mewat district of Haryana, near Behror, on the Jaipur-Alwar highway by a mob of street goons claiming to Gaurakshaks, on April 1st, is an extension of what we witnessed at  village Bisara, near Dadari on September 28th, 2015 when a mob of Hindus entered into house and lynched him in full public glare for the ‘sin’ of killing a calf. The entire village turned against him and his family who had been living there for years. But that relationship was now over as village sharply divided itself on communal lines, a thing very suitable for the political leaders to exploit the emotions during the elections.

How are these things same in relations to Pakistan’s blasphemy law is that here too like Mashal Khan’s case, police filed cases against the victims and the accused roaming around. None want to speak against the dangerous cow protection act despite the fact that India is losing business internationally and a large number of people inside India who eat beef. The things are not related to beef alone as attempt has been made and impose the Vaishnavite-Jain traditions of vegetarianism on Indians where a huge number of people are meat eaters.

A recent video of a foreign national who had come to Goa for her holidays is going viral on YouTube when she was nearly lynched by the goons in the name of Gowsevaks. Her fault was that she just tried to put a cow away from her who was wandering on the beach where most of the tourists actually come for their holidays. The goons assaulted her shamelessly and none in the crowd ever bothered to defend her.

Actually, India is fast following the majoritarianism of Pakistan which has been exploited by the religious rights at the cost of minorities. As Pakistan’s blasphemy law target minorities so is Indian Cow Protection Laws targeting minorities and beef eaters. Over the period of time, Pakistan has been turned into a failed state as the state power is unable to control those loudspeakers who want to silent dissenters as well as minorities in the name of Islam but we in India are learning from them. The loudmouth cow goons are doing the same and have the open protection of the state. The way the Indian dispensation is defending them through spreading rumors and wrong information about those who disagree. Whatever are the laws, let us honor them as these things will have to be fought politically but then it is too important to emphasize as whether we will allow the goons to take over the state and decide everything on the street. Right and wrong of cow protection laws are issue of another article but the fear is that how come we allow the goons to take law unto their hand without any sense of fear of it, in a state which has a constitution and a law implementing machinery.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law was used by Zia-ul-Haq to legitimize his undemocratic takeover of Pakistan and had a huge support from the religious thugs who got a chance to enjoy the power without any accountability. India today is heading for the same way through ‘democratic theocracy’ where the unaccountable religious rights are taking law unto their hands, suggesting various other ways to suppress, intimidate and isolate the minorities. Each day, we hear one or two persons giving new ideas to Muslims to isolation through various means, through social exclusion and eliminating their business under the garb of legalities. From Slaughter Houses to triple Talaq to Love Jihad and now loudspeakers at Ajan are smart moves to keep the Muslims in perpetual business of defending their lives and justify their positions. Even when the state has not given them anything in terms of socio economic cultural development, it want to snatch whatever they have achieved through own hard work.

Cow Protection Movement in India has quite similarities of that of Zia’s regime though unlike him they were duly elected democratically. Indian governments even though led by non BJP parties brought law under pressure from the cow brigade which has full support from the Sangh Parivar which knew well that the issue of cow is more to embarrass government that time but today it is a tool to humiliate and intimidate Muslims in particular. Unfortunately for most part of their movement, India was led by Congress and other governments. About 50 years ago when a huge protest against the government of the day was organized in Delhi, police had to fire at the unruly protesters killing several of them. The congress though claimed to be secular party was led by the Brahmin leadership whose ‘credentials’ for the ‘nation’ were never questioned. In fact, from time to time, RSS supported Congress and the last one was Rajiv Gandhi but today the Sangh is enjoying power it never had and hence its various offshoots are now behaving as if there is no tomorrow.  The power at center have given them extraordinary strength to intimidate the opponents in various means from physical to threatening through legal action and most importantly trolling on social media against the opponents. The mediocre ‘karyakartas’ whose only quality was speak loud and threaten the opponents have become leaders or mainstream therefore it is becoming difficult for the politicians to completely dissociate from them as they know during the elections it is the same workers who will bring votes through their polarization.

While there is no similarity between the deaths of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Mashal Khan but if we think beyond boxes then we realize that they have similarities. All of them are victim of religious hatred. All of them have supposedly ‘hurt’ the ‘sentiments’ of majority communities. In fact in all the three cases there is another common factor that rumor worked well? The cow slaughter issue and beef has become a kind of blasphemy law in India with Muslims becoming its major target along with Dalits many of who do the skinning work of the dead animals. Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan are considered dissenters in India because of their community identity in a very similar way as Ahmedis, Shias, Hindus, Dalits or Christians are considered in Pakistan. They are easy to target under the garb of ‘hurting’ the ‘religious’ sentiments. In all these cases, police has worked with the majoritarian tendencies and filed case against the victims. This is the new low of South Asia that victims are further victimized and humiliated by the ruling elite which remain conspicuous. We have not heard our political leadership coming out so openly in unambiguous terms against such brutal public murders which the world has now seen through their TV screens or on YouTube.

South Asia has the least tolerance for the dissenting voices. Bloggers are being killed in Bangladesh by the Islamic zealots and the government remains mute. Pakistan saw the brutal murders but the deaths continue there because the fundamentalists don’t want the dissent of choices, food eating habits and so on. In Myanmar, the ruling Buddhist elite do not want the Rohingyas to be there. Sri Lanka’s Buddhist and Tamils have not yet reconciled fully. Nepal’s Madhesis and rest of the country and their Janjatis are still not completely called off their hostilities. India, which was a model for all the South Asian countries, very unfortunately, is following the path of some of its neighbors. The issue of protection of minorities is the job of each of these nations but it would be good if South Asians actually start talking to each-other in terms of protecting their minorities and marginalized through legalized mechanism. If SAARC can take a lead and government agrees then it will be able to bring various civil society organizations together working on minority rights. Whether these agencies and governments agree for a common minimum programmes on minorities or not, it is essential to understand that conditions of minorities in each society gives way to rumors and prejudices elsewhere. Moreover, South Asia will never develop as long as it has religious thugs dictating the political discourse and democracy hijacked by loudmouth hatemongers who make villain of dissenters and minorities in their respective countries. Strong constitutional mechanism need to be worked out so that such barbaric cases of violence do not get repeated again. Unfortunately, for such mechanism to happen, we need to matured leadership and statesmanship at the highest level. India being the biggest democracy of the region can take lead but it is only possible if we show the way and take control of our own fringe which is fast becoming the mainstream.

In the last years we have seen killings of secular rationalist intellectuals and activists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and Dr Kalburgi by the allegedly Hindu fanatic organizations and yet nothing moved. This year, we have seen a brutal murder of A Farooq, a young man in Coimbatore whose rationalist humanist writings and postings were not acceptable to many of his Muslim friends and he was brutally stabbed to death in March.

Violence on the basis of religion will never take us anywhere. I still remember Ajure Abbas, who is in his 90s and had to migrate to Pakistan in 1947 with his parents. His eyes remain moist when he speak to me and want to listen to Pul Bangas or Mori Gate where he spent his childhood. Partition was never good for us he says but both the Hindus and Muslims were killing each-others. Millions killed yet we learn nothing. He still shivers from those days. My friends in Bangladesh have seen the destruction that the Pakistan army unleashed on the Bangla people. It was a nation that revolted against Urdu and Wahabi nationalism of Pakistan but what happened there. The same kind of religious nationalists have started taking law unto their hand and killing people as we have witnessed in our parts. Today, Bangladesh is struggling to protect its secular identity as dissenters have been killed by the Islamic fundamentalists and yet no will from the government to deal with such a situation.

Governments in South Asia are fast buckling under the majoritarian religious gangs which are intimidating the minorities or feeling apprehensive of minority culture and value system. Such a huge gap between majority-minority will only damage the social fabric of these societies and bring uncertainty in the region. It is easy for democracy to turn into theocracy or for the military to take over. Our political systems are not completely fool proof and hence it is time for all of us to ponder over these issues seriously and strengthen our secular democracy which alone is the guarantee for protection of minorities. For secular democracies, we must stop judging people through their food habits, language, culture and religious values. No laws should be made to placate the religious rights in our societies who might use them to intimidate minorities and marginalized. It is time we understand the repercussion of such laws and encouragement by the state to all the religious goons claiming to represent the voice of majorities in their respective countries. The only way to judge its citizen is following the principle of rule of law and constitution which must include all the international laws and treaties that protect rights of minorities and marginalized so that they are not bulldozed by an intimidating majorities which in South Asia is only counted in terms of religious identities.

It is time we learn to live with diversity and dissent as it will only enhance the beauty of this region and ensure a healthier democracy in these countries.

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