As a nation, we seem to have collectively lost our sanity. Incidents that highlight our society’s extreme intolerance take place on a regular basis and yet, we do nothing to reform this state of affairs. The latest such tragedy took place at Chanighot in Bahawalpur, where an enraged mob beat up and set alight a deranged man accused of desecrating the Holy Quran. The incident stems from growing intolerance and hysteria over blasphemy and the failure to amend laws that lay down a death sentence, as well as the failure to introduce reforms that could help ensure that the law is not misused and those accused of blasphemy, at least, have access to a fair trial before a court of law.
This is not the first instance of an accused being killed for alleged blasphemy before a court verdict has been delivered. In this case, the accused was arrested by the police after being blamed for desecrating pages of the Holy Quran. Soon after news of the alleged blasphemy spread, a mob surrounded the police station where the accused was being held. It may be noted that Bahawalpur and most of southern Punjab is home to hundreds of seminaries and the various organisations that run them. This may explain the terrible sequence of events that followed. The police station was attacked, vehicles parked outside burnt and despite resistance from the police, who tried to dissipate the mob through using tear gas canisters and batons, the alleged blasphemer was dragged away. In what must have been a horrific spectacle, he was then burnt alive in public. His screams of agony moved no one to intervene and police officials, some of whom had also been injured in the attack, stood by helplessly.
According to a police official, the man in question was mentally unstable. Two FIRs against 1,500 to 2,000 people have been filed but not a single one of these persons has actually been named in them. This latest outrage makes it clear that the law needs reform without delay. But even if it is reformed, the only way to actually control such incidents is to reform the mindset that believes in murder and violence in the name of faith and in taking the law into one’s own hands. Without that, we will continue to witness such bigotry and intolerance, whose perpetrators actually believe that what they did was right.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2012.