By K. K. Shahid
On October 31, the Supreme Court’s three-member bench announced its verdict in favour of Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, heard Aasia’s final appeal and decided that there was no evidence against her, upholding the appeal against the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) October 2014 verdict.
Aasia, a Christian woman, was convicted under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for “defamatory statements against Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) during an argument with three Muslim women.” She was sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the verdict being appealed in the LHC.
Her counsel, Saiful Mulook, argued that there was an ulterior motive in the allegations, citing that the incident, which took place on June 14, 2009, was reported five days later, on June 19. Mulook also reiterated that the prayer leader who had filed the case was not present during the incident in question.
“What we can conclude from your statements is that the prayer leader himself did not witness the incident as it happened,” said Justice Khosa, in a hearing on October 8, following which the verdict had been reserved. “No blasphemous language was uttered in the presence of the prayer leader.”
While announcing the final verdict on October 31, CJP Saqib Nisar explained why Aasia Bibi had been acquitted. “It is a well settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial,” he said. “Presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time [as] the prosecution [provides the evidence which] satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence alleged against him.”
After the verdict was reserved, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) sensed that the proceedings were tilting in favour of Aasia Bibi’s release. It vowed to take to the streets in protest.
“[The] judges’ remarks created doubt and fears among party leaders that Aasia’s conviction may be set aside to stop her execution,” said TLP Patron-In-Chief, Afzal Qadri, at a party gathering. Unsurprisingly then, outrage spread among radical Islamist circles as soon as the verdict was announced on October 31. The TLP Chief, Khadim Rizvi, had already released a message on social media asking the “lovers of Prophet Muhammad” to come to the streets. “If the blasphemer is released then be prepared to give any kind of sacrifice until the centre overturns the decision,” he said in the video.
Soon thereafter, protesters began blocking roads and vandalising property in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. Activities came to a halt nationwide, as mobs instigated violence against the judges and called for mutiny within the Pakistan army, against the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Eventually, an agreement was signed between the TLP and the government, on November 3. It stated:
a) A review petition has been filed against the verdict in the Aasia Bibi case, which is the petitioners’ legal right. The government will not object to it.
b) Legal proceedings to put Aasia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List will begin immediately.
c) Legal action will be taken for all those martyred in the protests against Aasia Bibi’s release.
d) All those arrested during the protests will be released immediately.
e) The TLP regrets any damage or hurt caused during the protests.
The government’s signatories were the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, and the Punjab Law Minister, Raja Basharat, while Afzal Qadri and Mohammed Waheed Moor represented the TLP.
With the review petition yet to be heard, the TLP leaders reiterated that if the verdict was not overturned, they would take to the streets again. They underscore the significance of the Aasia Bibi case, maintaining that it is unlike any other.
“[The] TLP wants her to be hanged because she is a proven offender,” said TLP spokesman Ijaz Ashrafi. “If she’s set free the retaliation will be many times greater than that during the Faizabad dharna. Blasphemy is unlike other cases, because it is purely a religious matter that needs to be dealt with under the light of the Quran and Sunnah, which mandates death for blasphemy. No other opinion can be taken,” he added.
The TLP leadership argues that the party’s position on blasphemy and the Aasia Bibi case should not be misconstrued as hostility towards religious minorities as a whole. “Please don’t mistake it as anything personal, or against Christians,” said Ashrafi. “The TLP plays its part in helping out Christians as well, wherever possible.”
Veteran activist and spokesman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP), I A Rehman, meanwhile, lauded the verdict. “Justice has been finally been done in the Aasia Bibi case,” he said. There was no case against her from the get-go and the claims [against her] are nonsensical.” Rehman questioned the motivations of the TLP and other radical Islamists, for issuing violent threats until a judgment of their liking is announced. “They are initiating campaigns saying that they will slice the throats of whoever even speaks in her favour,” he said adding, “The Supreme Court decided on merit and it should not be influenced by the noise that is being made, because if this kind of influence is accepted then it will be a bad day for justice and the law in Pakistan. The government should take every step to protect the minorities.”
In an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) prior to the final verdict, Aasia’s family had expressed optimism that the decision would be in their favour. “We are hopeful that whatever the court proceedings are, it will be positive for us,” said Aasia’s husband Ashiq Masih. “I will be very happy the day my mother will be released,” added her daughter, Eisham Ashiq. “I will hug her and will cry meeting her and will thank God that he has got her released.” However, the family conceded that if Aasia was released, they would find it extremely hard to continue living in Pakistan and had already applied for asylum in various western countries.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South Asia, Omar Waraich, criticises Pakistan’s inability to maintain the rule of law. “Aasia Bibi’s case is the saddest example of Pakistan’s failure to safeguard the marginalised and a refusal to uphold the rule of law,” he said. “Amnesty is against the blasphemy law in all forms. We don’t think anyone should be killed for saying something,” he added.
He continued that two prominent politicians – former minorities’ minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, and the former governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer – had already been killed over their defence of Aasia Bibi. Waraich says the government should have taken decisive action against the TLP mobs, unlike last year when it succumbed to pressure – and actually paid them to disperse. “It is sad that the [then] law minister Zahid Hamid stepped down under mob pressure, even though he did not do anything wrong,” he said. He added that there would have been an international backlash had the final SC verdict not been in Aasia Bibi’s favour.
“Pakistan’s case in the IMF won’t be impacted; no action has been taken against China’s human rights abuses, for instance,” Waraich said. “However, the European Union and the UK would [have reacted].”
Meanwhile, the TLP sees the verdict in Aasia Bibi’s favour as a result of international pressure. “We can see there is international pressure from the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. This is a great opportunity for courts to reaffirm the death penalty for blasphemy and uphold the rule of law,” said Ijaz Ashrafi. He added, “What this will also ensure is that people will not take the law in their own hands. They will trust the courts and not resort to mob violence. But if the court sets her free [following the review petition] people will have to take matters in their own hands, like Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri did, because of a lack of trust in the courts.”
Waraich, meanwhile, rubbishes the assertion that Pakistan carrying out the first-ever death penalty for blasphemy would result in a decrease in mob violence. “The claim is absolute nonsense,” he contended. “There has actually been an increase in blasphemy FIRs since 295-C was added to the Penal Code.”
Theology of Presence
Amir Suhail Wani
“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran
To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.
This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.
This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.
There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.
(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction
Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.
The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.
(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!
Dr. Shahid Amin Trali
It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.
There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future. What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.
Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life. For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges. We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.
Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.
Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.
India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.
Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment. Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.
The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: email@example.com)