It has been a year since Shahbaz Bhatti passed away. No, strike that, he did not pass away; his life was brutally cut short when he was murdered. Everyone from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan have been suspected with his murder, either by the police officials, or by the home ministry, yet no decent progress has been made.
In a way, it all makes sense, since only certain kinds of angry groups of men, who bay for blood and destruction, seem to carry any weight around here. Bhatti was NOT that kind of a man. He believed in fighting for rights the democratic way and had planned to introduce legislation that would ban hate speech and hate literature against all. He was campaigning for official holidays for minorities’ religious festivals and wanted the blasphemy law to be repealed which turned out to be a crime worthy of death.
Bhatti’s death is not a lone incidence of brutal violence. Planned acts of aggression and cruelty against minorities — whether ethnic, religious, sectarian or communal — is becoming a norm in the ‘Land of the Pure’. Intolerance has reached such levels that people with names that revealed their sectarian or religious beliefs are afraid to use them when they feel unsafe. Slain journalist, Mukarram Khan Atif narrated one such incident, which depicted the extent of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism in the country. He and another reporter were travelling south from Mohmand Agency through Khyber Agency and one of them had to use a name that would make him pass off as a member of the majority sect.
The minority communities — no matter who they are and where they are living — are constantly under threat. We have cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls, mostly minors in Sindh who are forcefully abducted and married to Muslim men and then presented to the court as religious converts. According to a treasury member of the Sindh Assembly, around 20 to 25 forced conversions take place every month in the province.
Acts of mob violence against Ahmadis seem to be rising at an alarming rate. The situation is such that any Ahmadi family is at risk of being threatened with the blasphemy law. Their places of worship are gunned and/or ransacked and the law-enforcement community and the state does nothing and silently looks on.
The perpetrators of the Gojra incident, where a whole Christian colony was burnt down, still roam free and the Hazaras in Balochistan are regularly targeted for their sectarian and ethnic identity. Also, nothing is done to check the dissemination of hate literature, some of which can be found even in mainstream bookstores. Last week’s tragic shooting of passengers travelling on a bus to Gilgit on the Karakoram Highway, where people were asked to show their CNICs and then taken off and killed — all of them were Shia — shows that we have reached an even higher level of prejudice and bigotry.
It would not be wrong to say that intolerance rules our society and no one is safe here in this country other than the men who perpetuate bias, bigotry and hatred?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2012.