ISLAMABAD: It took less than a week for 1,454 people to join the facebook group ‘Islamabad for a Tolerant Pakistan’. Qadri may have his supporters, but some residents of Islamabad who were shocked by Salmaan Taseer’s killing, decided that they had to stand up and be counted as well.
By Saturday plans were final for a protest outside the national press club and as scheduled scores of people turned up at 2:30pm with placards in their hands and slogans on their tongues.
“Rawadari humari pehchan, jive jive Pakistan,” they shouted [Harmony is what we are known for, long live Pakistan]. There were white-haired women, bright-eyed old men shouting into megaphones and even a sleeping baby in a pram.
The idea was to gather as many people as possible to protest the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, urge citizens to do something to promote tolerance in society and raise their voices against the rising tide of radicalisation. Non-government organization members also showed up, including the Insani Haqooq Ittehad network of civil
society bodies. Human rights activist Naeem Mirza, Harris Khalique and a member of the National Assembly, Farahnaz Ispahani, spoke.
A university student told The Express Tribune that no one had the right to take the law into their own hands. He and other young people said that they came out because they felt that it was “now or never” and they had to register their protest.
Another protester, Usman, was of the view that the government should review its policy regarding the blasphemy law. He suggested that consensus should be developed between the state and religious scholars on the law, otherwise the country was headed towards anarchy.
The protesters called for punishment for Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri. “We want Quaid-i-Azam’s Pakistan, progress and a liberal and prosperous Pakistan,” they cried. “Not a mullah Pakistan, which has plunged the country into the dark ages.” They called upon the government to review the discriminatory legislation in the Pakistan Penal Code.
Naeem Mirza stressed the need for sectarian harmony. “Intolerance for someone else’s opinion is the root cause of violence in our society,” he said. This was backed by Ispahani, who is a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. She said that Pakistan was being lost to intolerance.
Young men and women, uneasy at perhaps their first protest, but resolute nonetheless, hung around at the back of the crowd, taking turns to hold up placards. A young man with a guitar and others with their voices decided to sing ‘Hum dekhain gay’ by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Perplexed and bored policemen stood around the small group. “We’re here for their security,” said one. Another scoffed at the effort. “They should have come to protest when the mullahs were showering Qadri with rose petals when he was taken to court,” said another. “Their numbers would have never stood up to that crowd.” The merits of his assessment aside, the group of people who came out to register their opinion have other protests planned and with time and effort can attract bigger numbers and organize more sophisticated gatherings.
After they were done, about an hour or so later, the participants marched towards Kohsar Market where they lit candles and said prayers for Taseer. At one point an outraged participant called the police to take part and light a candle. “One of you did this,” she said. “Why don’t you come forward now.” They looked away uncomfortably. They had not bargained for such outspokenness.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2011.
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