A 12-year-old daughter of Pakistan, Rimsha Masih, is in jail without bail for burning pages of Quranic verses even after the police found she was victimised through a trumped-up charge by a local cleric determined to oust the Christian community from the village of Mehrabad, near Islamabad. She suffers from Downs’s syndrome and may not understand why she is being maltreated. Even after the discovery that the cleric was indulging in a criminal plot against the Christian community, she has not been allowed to return home on bail.
A crowd was organised to oust the Christian community upon appeals from mosque loudspeakers. The mob went to the house of Rimsha and started kicking the door asking the parents to hand her over. They finally entered the house and gave a beating to the little girl and her mother. Following this, the police were informed, who immediately took the girl away and put her in jail under the ‘non-bailable’ black law. The Capital Development Authority has reassured those who were evacuated that they will be returned to their homes and their tormentors will be forced under law to relent. The displaced families were made to move to another place where the local inhabitants refused to let them stay temporarily because they feared ‘incidence of crime due to their presence’.
The shock administered by this case of blasphemy has been felt inside Pakistan. It has deepened the despair the outside world feels about our country; and the Christian Church is once again appealing to do something about a law that, as now proved beyond all doubt, is causing harm to Pakistan and its reputation.
This happened on August 16, on the 27th of Ramazan, thus further raising suspicions as to when Rimsha was put in confinement. A few days ago, even after a witness alerted the authorities that the cleric had cooked up the story of burning the Holy Quran by putting scarred pages in a bag that Rimsha was carrying, the police have still not released her. The judiciary is silent so far but the Supreme Court should take suo-motu notice and get the girl placed in a better environment which her age, her health and her innocence deserve.
What people have always said about the law and are still saying is this: “In blasphemy cases, the state institutions just try to defuse the pressure of accusers by registering a case against the accused”. Both the police and the judiciary take the side of the accuser. During the last two decades or so, more than 1,000 cases of blasphemy have been registered and it is believed that a vast majority of these cases were fake. Not even a single accuser in these fake cases has been convicted, implying that the state patronises the accusers at some level.
Laws are usually made after criminal acts are observed in society. In this case, criminal acts have followed the enforcement of the law. The victimisation follows a familiar pattern. In February 1997, the twin villages of Shantinagar-Tibba Colony, 12 kilometres east of Khanewal, in Multan division, were looted and burnt by 20,000 Muslim citizens and 500 policemen. The police first evacuated the Christian population of 15,000, then helped the raiders use battlefield explosives to blow up their houses and property.
In November 2005, the Christian community of Sangla Hill in Nankana district in Punjab experienced a most hair-raising day of violence and vandalism. Three churches, a missionary-run school, two hostels and several houses belonging to the Christian community were destroyed by an enraged mob of some 3,000 people.
The Supreme Court must act to save Rimsha Masih and, thereafter, declare the blatant misuse and abuse of the blasphemy law against the spirit of Islam and against the ‘grundnorm’ of the Constitution. Or, is it true that like the politicians, the institutions of the state are too scared to act?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2012.