There appears to be no limit to the brutality and inhumanity the blasphemy law and its misuse has inflicted on our society. The latest case is especially shocking. It features an 11-year-old Christian girl with Down syndrome, a mob and an arrest by the police of the handicapped child. People have reported that the child was spotted desecrating pages of the Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Holy Quran outside her home in a slum located near Islamabad. There are many versions of the exact tale with some accounts stating she was merely ruffling through a garbage bag, which contained papers that people said included Quranic verses.
But, where there is no doubt is the fact that following the whipping up of frenzy, the police arrested the child who they agree is not mentally stable and unable to answer questions. Her parents have been taken into protective custody. Numerous Christian families have fled the area after receiving threats. The US government and local human rights groups have taken notice of this act of cruelty committed under the guise of the blasphemy law.
Time and again, we have seen the most terrible acts enacted in the name of the blasphemy law. Just months ago, a mentally unwell man was burnt alive in Punjab after being snatched from a police station following accusations that he had committed blasphemy. It is uncertain what has become of that case. A significant number of victims said to be suffering mental disease remain in jail. Others are behind bars as a result of acts of victimisation or to settle petty disputes. Last year, former Punjab governor and, a few months later, a cabinet minister were shot dead for speaking out against the blasphemy law and the terrible incidents it had introduced to our society.
The president has sought a report on this latest case. This is all very well but we wonder when the government will gather the courage to amend a law that has been repeatedly used in the most hideous fashion against those who are unable to defend themselves. We wonder how many more such cases will emerge before change can be introduced and events such as those that took place in this case will be brought to an end.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2012.