I had never met Shahbaz Bhatti but I knew him to be a bold man. It was for this reason that I called him over the telephone one fine December morning last year. I wanted to discuss the possibility of convincing the mother of a juvenile Christian housemaid, who died in mysterious circumstances, to challenge the acquittal of the accused. The girl had died in Lahore in January 2010 while she was on duty at the house of the accused. I had heard that Shahbaz Bhatti was in contact with the girl’s mother. He assured me of all possible support, and promised to revert to me later.
Shahbaz Bhatti didn’t get back to me despite my repeated calls and messages, till he was murdered on Wednesday morning. During all these days, since we talked over telephone, I remained furious and thought he had betrayed the cause of hundreds of thousands of children working in miserable conditions. But I also knew that he was fighting on other fronts. In recent months, he had been actively struggling to get the blasphemy laws amended, till everyone withdrew after Salmaan Taseer was murdered in cold blood.
I saw Bhatti on the television screen trying to reason out why he thought the blasphemy laws should be reconsidered. In one such programme, he was bullied by the aggressive female anchor as well as other participants, one an elderly senior Urdu language columnist and the other a ‘court reporter’.
I recall when the elderly columnist, referring to Pope Benedict’s statement about blasphemy laws, used rude language bordering on the abusive, Bhatti advised him to be civil, but this was ignored. The other participant, a reporter claiming to have done court reporting for years, went to the extent of saying in an extremely rude manner that Bhatti had no business questioning an Islamic law as he was not a Muslim. I was shocked. One could clearly see that Shahbaz Bhatti was disturbed; his face gave a bewildered look as he spoke.
I was immediately reminded that the first book I open to find answers to questions on Islamic law is that of DF Mulla, a Parsi. How could anyone be so ignorant, so insensitive, I wondered.
It’s two o’ clock in the afternoon on Wednesday as I write this. About three hours have passed since Bhatti’s assassination. A text message from a friend calls us to join a protest march against the murder, which makes me wonder: How long we will keep protesting, how long will they keep killing our people and how long will we keep counting the bodies? I wonder if all those who said this was not a country worth living were right. I text these disjointed thoughts to a friend who says he gave up on this country a while back.
With Shahbaz Bhatti, our member of parliament and federal minister for minorities, murdered, like Salmaan Taseer was two months ago, there is one more reason to fear, one more reason to leave this country. But both of them lived here despite threats to their lives, till their fates were decided. And this makes me wonder: Could there be a better reason to stay on and shed fear and speak out till everyone else has turned into a Malik Mumtaz Qadri?
I decide to join the protesters.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2011.