It is beyond religion. It is something unconsciously being wired into our faith-driven society’s DNA, at varying levels in different believers of faith. Inhumanely treating another human is not outlandish to eyes, least in Pakistan. Agonizing cries of victims are no more unfamiliar to Pakistani ears. Stories of a mob taking law unlawfully in their hands have and sadly continue to float across media every now and then. The latest being the lynching of a student of journalism, Mashal Khan, by his own university fellows at Abdul Wali Khan University, #Mardan, KPK, #Pakistan. He was accused of sharing blasphemous content on social media.
This practice of ‘mob-justice’ is not new. Such crimes have become a norm in Pakistan. Some get recorded on cameras, while others go unnoticed. To name a few, in July 2016 a similar mob in Karachi caught a thief and beat him half-dead. Later threw his unconscious body in an open sewer. Enjoyed the triumph as his body sank in filthy toxic water.
In 2014 a heated mob attacked a Christian couple after first accusing them of desecration of the Holy Quran and later burning their bodies at a brick kiln.
Two brothers shared the same fate in 2010 in the city of Sialkot. They too were, falsely, I emphasize, accused of robbery. These innocent brothers were killed, hung and mutilated. The mob went on dragging their bodies, attached to the rear of a vehicle, in the streets. In this mob, remain stood, as onlookers and spectators, police and Rescue 1122 staff.
Going through the social media profile of Mashal Khan, to your surprise, nothing controversial was found, let alone blasphemous. On the contrary, he did stand for injustice and poverty. I did find a photo of a poor girl crying out of hunger, as depicted by the scene, which he titled:
Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.
I did come across a collage of photos of two street kids selling flags of their respective countries, India and Pakistan. On it, he said that both countries should fight against poverty. He also propagated socialist views. At times, urging the labor class to get united on one of his posts on Labour Day on 1st May 2016.
Exactly three days before he was lynched he wrote, I quote,
Sometimes I feel exasperated by human beings
not knowing that just three sunrises later, barbarous fellow beings, in disguise of humans, will beat him to death. A week ago he shared a desire that he wants to give up on society and wants to go live in a tree house.
While his fellows accused him of blasphemy, of which not a trace is yet proved till the time I pen this article, he called himself a humanist. Blasphemy is so poisonous that only a hint of its accusation can take your life, much less it being proved. The mob that killed Mashal first harassed and beat another fellow of theirs and a friend of Mashal, Abdullah. They made him read Quranic verses as if that were to determine his innocence. While this ceremony of recitation was ongoing, police had arrived and they set free Abdullah from this mob, sending him to a hospital for treatment of his injuries. This mob then rushed to a hostel where Mashal was in his room. They break free the main hostel door, busted into his room, which had posters of Karl Marx among others, and started beating him while dragging him out of his room forcefully. Then he was shot. His bullet-ridden body was then struck with stones, wooden planks, kicks; whatsoever the mob could improvise then. His clothes were torn apart as he succumbed to death. Before they could burn his body, police intervened and saved his body from a forced cremation. This victorious throng then marched the varsity campus chanting ‘Allah Hu Akbar’.
Blasphemy has become a murderous tool. It needs to be taken away from fanatics before they spill more blood. Blasphemy laws have torn apart the very fabric of tolerance in our society. The way the mob dealt with the dead body lies far from understanding for a human heart and mind. This barbarism has, so justifiably, got dissolved into the character of ardent believers of faith that their faces show no signs of remorse, before and after, whatsoever. Sadly the government to have ideally curbed it has failed utterly. Steps taken by the government recently in the aftermath of abductions and blasphemy accusations of several bloggers were illogical. What we have witnessed in Mardan is the sequel of ill policies of the government in the recent past, plus the seed of intolerance sown in our distant past.
It is the time that we all get united for reforms in blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Ideas should be debated, not suffocated. It is the time we break our silence for enough is enough already. Continuing to turn our heads away from this ever-growing monster will sooner or later engulf us in one-way or the other. Clerics can play an equal, rather more pronounced, role. Religious scholars of different schools of thought should step forward, get united, and help change the narrative regarding blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Easier said than done but it is the time that we shun the ideologies of hatred and together strive for a tolerant, peace-loving Pakistan. For which everyone contributes to the best of their capabilities and capacities in rooting out intolerance, fanaticism, and radicalism. Let us all unite to make sure that Mashal was the last torch blown out in the name of blasphemy.
This article was also published in The Nation.